Interview with Elizabeth Warren

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - October 5, 2010

JIM LEHRER: Now: setting up a new federal agency to protect consumers. Jeffrey Brown has our newsmaker interview.

JEFFREY BROWN: Perhaps the most contentious among government responses to the financial crisis of the last few years was the creation of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. And perhaps the most polarizing figure in that debate is the woman whose idea it was and who was recently appointed to get it going, Elizabeth Warren.

A professor at the Harvard Law School, Ms. Warren served as head of a congressional panel that kept an eye on government bailout funds. And she joins me now. Welcome to you.

ELIZABETH WARREN, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, after years of writing and talking about this, here you are. What's the first priority? When would consumers know that you -- that this agency now exists?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Oh, they know now.


ELIZABETH WARREN: They know in part because this agency doesn't exist because there was some interest group behind it, because there was a lot of ton lobbying money behind it.

They know because the only reason this agency exists is because millions of American families said, hey, yes, that really sounds like a sensible deal. That's a part of financial regulatory reform that I think is important and could make a difference in my life. They are the best allies of this agency. They are the owners of it.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, what's the priorities? What do you do first? I mean...


JEFFREY BROWN: And is your authority clear about what you do?

ELIZABETH WARREN: So, I think the priority is to keep in mind what the end goal is.

And the end goal here is on financial products, these credit products, so that American families can evaluate how much they cost, can see the risks in them, and can easily compare one product to another. And that means what these products have to be is short and easy to read and very clear in their terms, not buckets and buckets of fine print -- in between, you know, clause 16 and clause 17 lurks something else that will come out and bite you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, in fact, you have been very blunt in the past. And even recently you used that term tricks and traps of the banking industry. So, this is what you're still after, and you're not backing away from any of that?

ELIZABETH WARREN: I'm not only backing away from any of that. What I'm really doing is reaching out to the banking industry and saying, some of you want to find another way to compete for your customers. Some of you have tried to put good products out there.

But those products get overshadowed by the ones that are full of tricks and traps, the folks who can pretend to offer you zero percent financing, when the reality is, they know they're going to make the money through the back door.

So, what I hope this is about is something that's good for families and quite frankly something that is also good for the financial institutions that are really willing to do head-to-head competition and serve those families.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I introduced you as a polarizing figure. And, in fact, there was lots and lots of opposition to you taking this from the financial sector, from Wall Street, from many Republicans.

Do you have a lot of fence-mending to do here? And how are you doing that?

ELIZABETH WARREN: You know, I -- I suppose people would say I have a lot of fence-mending to do. But the truth is, I just don't see it that way.

What I see is that I'm here to help markets work for consumers. And that means lots of transparency. That means really being able to read and evaluate those products. That means some financial institutions are going to do very well.

Those who are really not afraid of the competition, who are really ready to come in and say, look, apples to apples, here's what I offer. And I'm will to compete for my customers, not by tricking them, but I'm willing to compete by giving them better customer service, giving them lower prices, doing cool new iPhone apps. Knock yourself out on competition.

Just do it in a way that the customer can see it. Don't do it in a way that surprises the customer through fine print, because that's never good news.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, I said you have been appointed to get this agency going. In fact, the president named you a special adviser to the White House and Treasury. And that was widely seen as a way of avoiding what would be expected to be a contentious Senate confirmation hearing.

ELIZABETH WARREN: I don't think so.

JEFFREY BROWN: You don't think so?

ELIZABETH WARREN: No, I don't think so. So, look, there are two jobs on the table. And they were always there by statute. One certainly is the director of the agency. That's confirmation process. In a world of secret holds in which one senator can keep you from coming to the floor for debate, that would be a very long time, likely, for this agency for anybody who got named.

And, as the president explained to me very clearly, during that process, if I were nominated, I wouldn't be allowed to talk about the agency and I wouldn't be allowed to do anything to help getting it stand up.

There is a second job that was available. And it's clear in the statute. Somebody is supposed to get out there and get that agency going. And the truth is, one has a cool title, but the other one gets to work right now.

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