Reprinted from Smirking Chimp
Lately Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been talking about President Obama's economic appointees -- and it sounds like she's pretty fed up.
Consider these words, from a Huffington Post essay she published earlier this week:
"I believe President Obama deserves deference in picking his team, and I've generally tried to give him that. But enough is enough."
Warren (D-Mass.) was writing about Antonio Weiss, a banker with Lazard who has spent most of his career working in overseas finance -- and was based in France for nearly a decade. That might not be much of a problem, if not for the fact that Weiss has been nominated for the post of Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department.
Weiss, who is currently Lazard's chief of global investment banking, was deeply involved with "corporate inversions" -- a bland name for what happens when an American corporation moves overseas to avoid paying its taxes. One of the inversions Weiss worked on was the Burger King merger with Canadian corporation Tim Hortons (a move which resulted in some very angry -- but sometimes entertaining -- social media commentary.)
The White House has begun blocking some inversions, and has publicly denounced the practice. But its position is undercut when it appoints someone like Weiss to such a critical economic post.
Americans don't like corporations who evade their taxes, according to the polls. They would presumably be unhappy to learn that their president has appointed someone like Antonio Weiss to a position of public trust -- especially when the position holds lead responsibility for consumer protection, Dodd-Frank implementation, and what Warren describes as "a wide range of banking and economic and policymaking issues."
Warren also pointed out that Lazard itself, where Weiss is a senior executive, exploited "a particularly slimy tax loophole" (to use Warren's words) when it moved its official headquarters to Bermuda in 2005.
Is that who we want in this critical position? Warren doesn't think so. And, in what amounted to a rare moment of constructive bipartisanship, neither does Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who described the appointment as hypocritical. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has also expressed opposition.
Warren's piece, which is well worth reading in full, also addresses what she describes as "the larger, more general issue of Wall Street executives dominating the Obama administration, as well as the Democratic Party's overall economic policymaking apparatus."
Thank God somebody's finally saying it, in a voice loud enough to be heard.
Warren also had some stern words this week for Mel Watt, President Obama's appointee to head the little-known but surprisingly powerful Federal Housing Finance Agency (or FHFA). As reported in The Washington Post, Warren interrupted recent Senate testimony from Mr. Watt several times in order to press him for an explanation of the FHFA's inaction on behalf of struggling homeowners:
"You've done a whole list of really tough technical things, and I applaud you for doing that," Warren said. "But people have lost their homes in the past year, and every day that you delay, more families lose their homes. There are 5.4 million families out there underwater, so I want to know, when are you going to have an answer on this?"
Watt's response: "It won't be as long as it has been -- let me put it that way."
That's not good enough. It's not even close.