I hope you know about this story.
If not, read on. If so, I hope you’ll think about it in a couple of contexts.
First, positive stories about politics in action can be overlooked, quickly lost in the swarm of social media and ever-changing news websites.
But tweets, headlines, pictures, even video clips aren’t enough to convey the real and potential impact of this little gem.
It unfolded last week during a House Financial Services Committee hearing. The nation’s seven biggest banks came to tell Congress how things are going 10 years after the Great Recession.
Turns out things are going well — for banks.
But part of the hearing that struck me was questioning by freshman U.S. Rep. Katie Porter (D., Calif.) of JPMorgan Chase boss (and billionaire) Jamie Dimon.
JPMorgan is the nation’s largest bank: $2.6 trillion in assets. Dimon’s salary is $31 million.
But when Porter asked questions, she focused on some smaller numbers.
She talked about “Patricia,” a full-time jobholder in her district, a single mom working as a teller at a JPMorgan bank in Irvine.
Porter laid out the woman’s financial situation: makes $16.50 an hour; takes home $2,425 a month; drives a 2008 minivan; lives in a $1,600-a-month one-bedroom apartment with her 6-year-old daughter.
Other monthly expenses include $450 for after-school child care, $100 for utilities, $40 for a Cricket phone, and money for food and gas.
Porter showed Dimon how the math adds up, leaving “Patricia” at the end of each month $567 in the red.
Porter asked Dimon, “How should she manage this budget shortfall while she’s working full time at your bank?”
He said, “I don’t know, I’d have to think about it.”
Porter asked if Dimon would recommend the woman take out a JPMorgan credit card and run a deficit. “I don’t know. I’d have to think about it,” he said.
Should the woman overdraft at Dimon’s bank and be charged overdraft fees? “I don’t know. I’d have to think about it,” Dimon said.
(Dimon, a lifelong Democrat, who last year had some presidential buzz, finally suggested he and the woman should talk to “see if we can be helpful.”)
“Mr. Dimon,” Porter said, “you know how to spend $31 million a year in salary and you can’t figure out a $567-a-month shortfall. This is a budget problem you cannot solve.”
Porter’s background suggests she knows what she’s talking about.
She’s on leave as a professor at the University of California, Irvine Law School specializing in bankruptcy, debt collection, and mortgage foreclosure.
In 2012, she oversaw California’s $25 billion bank settlement payouts for fraudulent foreclosures.
She’s a Yale grad with a law degree from Harvard, where one of her professors was Elizabeth Warren.
But Porter said, “There are tens of thousands of Patricias out there.”
Philly-area freshman U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D., Pa.), also a member of the House Financial Services Committee, sat in front of Porter at the hearing.
She said Porter’s “an able questioner who brings things into human terms.” Dean said the hearing was frustrating not only because of Dimon’s “strong lack of ideas and empathy,” but also because he and other bank bosses talked about how, in the decade since the recession, “they reduced risks to themselves.”
Dean wanted to know, “How about your customers? Where do they stand?”
This gets me to the second context I’d invite you to consider regarding this story.
It’s not about Inside-the-Beltway politics. It’s a topic impacting the daily lives of average folks.
It presents an example of how new lawmakers could change views of Congress. (Gallup tracking shows Congress’ approval rating at 26 percent.)