CONSUMER CHAMPION Elizabeth Warren recently unveiled an example of the kind of service that ordinary Americans can expect from the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - if Republicans don't succeed in killing it in its cradle.
The bureau has developed two prototypes of a streamlined, two-page mortgage-disclosure form - with no fine print - to replace the confusing jumble that potential home-buyers currently must navigate. The bureau is asking for public input (you can view the two drafts and comment at www.consumerfinance.gov) before it makes a final recommendation in 2012.
If the new agency works the way Congress intended when it passed the Dodd-Frank financial- reform law last year, the new mortgage form will be just the first in a series of moves to help consumers make informed choices. Among others surely will be easier-to-understand credit-card and bank-account agreements.
Not so long ago, most politicians would be loath to publicly oppose something called "consumer protection." ( Then again, not so long ago, most politicians wouldn't go on record as wanting to kill Medicare.) But big banks are freaked out at the prospect of a government agency with the power to help consumers. So their pals in Congress are helping them out. It's a move they should live to regret.
The story so far is as complicated and confusing as the mortgage-disclosure forms that the CFPB wants to revise. So far, Warren has been the star of the show - as well as the prime target: In a hearing before a House subcommittee last week, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., essentially called Warren a perjurer . . . twice.
But make no mistake: It's the consumer-protection bureau itself that they want to undo - no matter who is in charge.
President Obama named Warren to get the bureau up and running while avoiding a bruising confirmation battle if he nominated her to actually run it. Yet 44 Republicans have pledged to filibuster any nominee to head the bureau unless its authority is substantially diminished.
So it looked as if the president would have to make a recess appointment - with Warren as the obvious candidate. To avoid that possibility, Republicans in the Senate last week refused to go along with an adjournment. Even though no business is being conducted, the Senate is technically still in session, and the same stunt could be pulled next month.
It's High Noon, time for a showdown. If a recess appointment isn't possible, President Obama should nominate Warren to head the bureau - and then fight for her.
Not only is this the only way to save the bureau, but it's smart politics. Warren already enjoys huge popular support. Any army of middle-aged, middle-class supporters went on Rep. McHenry's Facebook page to chide him for the way he tried to bully her. A progressive group set up an online petition and collected 150,000 signatures supporting Warren in 24 hours. (The number was 237,509 yesterday. You can add your name at http://boldprogressives.org.
Make opponents publicly state why they are against protecting consumers and for the companies that take advantage of them. This is one "Elizabethan Drama" - as writer Jonathan Alter describes it - that is worth staging. *