September 21, 2023

Obama Adviser on Consumer Agency to Address Business Leaders

WASHINGTON — Elizabeth Warren, who is overseeing the beginnings of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, will confront some of her chief antagonists on Wednesday when she addresses a gathering at the United States Chamber of Commerce, the business lobbying group that has adamantly opposed the existence of the agency.

“I’ve had more teasing about this meeting than I’ve had in a long time,” Ms. Warren is scheduled to tell the gathering, according to excerpts of remarks released late Tuesday. “You can imagine the analogies: Nixon to China, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Senator John Kennedy speaking before Protestant ministers.”

Ms. Warren is expected to stress that she and the chamber’s members share one important belief: “Competitive markets are good for consumers and for businesses,” according to the excerpts. “The important question is how to ensure that markets are competitive.”

Ms. Warren, who is an assistant to the president and a special adviser to the secretary of the Treasury, received a lashing from Republicans two weeks ago at her first appearance on Capitol Hill after beginning her role at the consumer bureau.

During the hearing, Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee castigated the agency, calling it unnecessary and saying it will overly burden businesses with regulatory red tape. Republicans and Chamber members have also complained that the bureau lacks oversight and that its powers are too broad.

Ms. Warren, a Harvard law professor whose writings about the importance of protecting consumers were an inspiration for the new bureau, will tell the business group that making sure that the rules are enforced is the best solution for the problems that became apparent during the financial crisis.

“A cop on the beat looking out for consumers does not reduce the freedom or effectiveness of markets; rather, it permits honest competition to flourish,” her remarks say. “If you are one of the guys who don’t use steroids when you play ball, then you don’t want to compete against those who are juicing. We understand that it isn’t enough to have good rules; competition flourishes only when those rules are consistently enforced.”

The bureau is not allowed to enact any new regulations until a director is appointed, and though one is expected by July 21, when the bureau is supposed to be operational, the Obama administration has not signaled when the appointment might come. Mr. Obama stopped short of formally nominating Ms. Warren as its first director because she would have had to face Senate confirmation.

So far, the bureau has indicated that much of its initial attention will be on consumer mortgages and simplifying the confusing array of mortgage disclosures that home buyers face.

“Fine print and overly long agreements get in the way of an efficient and competitive market,” Ms. Warren is expected to say. “The role of regulation in credit markets is, at its heart, to make it easy for consumers to see what they are getting and to make it easy for customers to compare one product with another, so that markets can function effectively.”

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