White House adviser Elizabeth Warren and a top lieutenant are quietly asking business and consumer groups for names of people who might run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to sources cited by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
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The hunt suggests that Warren, a lightning rod for some bankers, might not be selected to lead the bureau, a centerpiece of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul bill that passed this summer. Still, many liberal groups will push to get her in the post.
President Barack Obama's choice could signal how he intends to deal with resurgent Republicans in Congress. The feelers to business groups serve as a reminder that any nominee would likely need support from at least seven Republicans in the Senate to win confirmation.
Among the names being discussed are Iowa's attorney general, Tom Miller; New York state bank regulator Richard Neiman; and former Office of Thrift Supervision director Ellen Seidman.
Miller, through a spokesman, declined to discuss whether he had been contacted by the administration about the post or was interested in it. A spokesman for Neiman declined to comment. Seidman did not respond to a request for comment.
The Obama administration weighed nominating Warren earlier this year but held off amid concern that Republicans who consider her anti-business would block her appointment. Instead, she was named a special adviser to set up the agency, and a decision on a permanent head was put off until 2011.
Several federal agencies are scheduled to transfer their powers to the new agency in July, and the administration wants to have a confirmed chief in place by then. Without a Senate-confirmed director, the agency's powers would be limited. For example, the agency would not be able to issue certain new rules on lending.
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So far, Warren and her senior adviser, Raj Date, have solicited input from a range of groups, including the Independent Community Bankers of America, the Financial Services Roundtable and the Center for Responsible Lending, according to people familiar with the matter.
The process is at an early stage but could escalate quickly, the people said. The decision on a nominee will ultimately be made by Obama, and could come by March.
Many credit Warren, a longtime critic of banks and a Harvard law professor, with envisioning the consumer protection agency in 2007. Liberals pushed to include it in the Dodd-Frank law, saying Washington needed a regulator whose sole focus was protecting consumers from unscrupulous lending practices. Republicans and business groups, particularly the US Chamber of Commerce, tried to kill it and succeeded in scaling it back.
Warren has said the bureau's priorities will include simplifying credit card and mortgage disclosures. She also wants to make the prices of financial products more transparent. Critics say the bureau's actions could limit choices for consumers and burden financial firms with costly new regulations.