Why it makes no sense for Warren to leave

By Felix Salmon
June 1, 2011
contrived today to vote 318-97 against raising the ceiling, in an idiotic political stunt which makes all 318 Nay votes look like complete morons.

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The U.S. Congress only has two choices. It can raise the debt ceiling, or it can abolish the debt ceiling. The latter option isn’t realistic, sadly. Which means that the debt ceiling is going to be raised. Yet somehow the House of Representatives contrived today to vote 318-97 against raising the ceiling, in an idiotic political stunt which makes all 318 Nay votes look like complete morons. Not a single Republican voted in favor of the bill, while the Democrats were pretty evenly divided between the sane and the bonkers; even the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel voted nay.

Faced with a Congress of such monumental doltishness, what is the White House to do? It can stick to its guns and try to put in place the very best policies for America that it can. Or it can randomly detonate various such policies, even if doing so would achieve precisely nothing, on some kind of inchoate principle that the occasional public sacrifice might somehow mollify an unknown number of lamebrained legislators.

That seems to be the philosophy of Bill Cohan, who has decided that Elizabeth Warren must resign from the nascent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, on the grounds that Congress won’t confirm her. But Cohan’s argument doesn’t even make internal sense:

The inconvenient truth facing Elizabeth Warren, the controversial Harvard Law School professor President Obama would like to run the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is that she has made herself so bloody disagreeable on Capitol Hill that she has obliterated her chance of winning the Senate votes she needs to be confirmed…

In the Senate — the body that actually confirms appointees — Warren is faring little better. In early May, 44 Republican senators sent the president a letter saying they would oppose any nominee of either party to head the bureau until “the lack of accountability in the structure” of it is “reformed.”…

This reeks of a political ploy by the Republican senators to gut an agency despised by their financial backers on Wall Street.

By Cohan’s own account, then, any nominee would face exactly the same fate as Warren — even a Republican. It’s the bureau that these senators don’t like, and they’re not going to confirm anybody to run it unless and until they also get the authority to hobble it. Throwing Warren to the sharks would just give them a taste for blood, and make them even more optimistic about their chances of getting exactly what they want.

Cohan says that the Warren nomination fight “is not a fight that Obama can win”. But it’s the first principle of any game that you don’t give something up without getting something in return — especially when your opponent is crazy. Unless and until the Republicans show Obama a way that he can get a nominee approved in line with Dodd-Frank’s vision for the agency, it’s a no-brainer that Warren must stay. Otherwise Obama would just be sacrificing a great public servant for no purpose at all.

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