Elizabeth Warren Gains Foothold in Battle Against Banks

Warren, a longtime critic of the financial industry, will sit on the committee that oversees it.

Elizabeth Warren will likely serve on the Senate Banking Committee. No word yet about the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
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In her latest battle with Wall Street, it appears Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren has won again.

The Massachusetts Democrat is poised to join the Senate Banking Committee, according to The Huffington Post, meaning perhaps the greatest policy critic of the finance industry will soon be charged with regulating it.

The financial services industry has long been a target of Warren's, but a seat on the banking committee would provide the platform for her to put her reform ideology into action. Her ideology has made her an enemy of the finance industry since 2008, when she served as the chief watchdog of the banks in her role overseeing the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street.

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Warren, a Harvard law professor and bankruptcy expert, regularly criticized the banks in that role and after the bailout. But in that role she was in no position to change much.

"What I can do is I can talk about this and that's what I'm going to do," Warren said when asked about what she could do to effect financial reform on The Daily Show in 2009.

Talking has remained her only avenue for regulating Wall Street since. In 2010, she orchestrated the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. But banks pushed back when it came time to appoint an official director of the agency, and the Obama administration appointed someone else. The regulatory agency has since fined financial firms hundreds of millions for defrauding customers, but without Warren.

Then in 2011 she announced she would run for the Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Throughout the campaign she called for increased regulations on Wall Street. She argued for the creation of the Volcker rule, which would limit bank's ability to bet with their own money, and asked for the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act, which would effectively break up the biggest banks by separating their risky investment banking arms from their more stable commercial banking units.

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As Warren talked, the financial industry fueled the campaign of her opponent, Scott Brown. Though Brown was one of few Republicans to vote for the Dodd-Frank reform bill that the industry so hated, and despite him not holding a leadership position or relevant committee seat, the industry gave Brown $4.5 million, more than any other congressional candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That backing helped make the race the most expensive congressional race of 2012 and in Massachusetts history.

In the end, Warren won, securing herself a position to do more than just talk. As a member of the banking committee she will, among other things, play a role in defending her brainchild, the CFPB, which many of the committee's members see as a regulatory overreach. Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, the committee's chair, counts the finance industry as his biggest financial supporter, and many of the industry's companies take advantage of the state's favorable financial laws. This would seem to place him at odds with Warren, yet Johnson issued a statement supporting the idea of her joining the committee.

"I have a good working relationship with Elizabeth Warren and I would welcome her to the committee if that's what she wishes," said Johnson in a statement. "Her expertise and knowledge would be an asset to the committee as we continue working to protect consumers and maintain financial stability."

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Seth Cline is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at scline@usnews.com.