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The Top Ten Policymakers to Watch

10. Richard Fisher, Dallas Fed president 10. Richard Fisher, Dallas Fed president

Richard Fisher, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, has never been particularly shy about his opinions. But in recent speeches, Fisher has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Fed monetary policy, frequently dissenting during his year-long stint on the Federal Open Market Committee.

Although Fisher will rotate off the FOMC in 2012, he shows no signs of tamping down his rhetoric. In early December, he warned in a speech that America is headed for "social unrest" unless the U.S. can get control over its ballooning deficit. In what was clearly a critique of President Obama, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and just about every other policymaker in charge of economic policy, he added, "Our nation has a crying need for public leadership to correct what's wrong in the economy." (Image: Bloomberg News)

9. Tom Hoenig, nominee for FDIC Vice Chairman 9. Tom Hoenig, nominee for FDIC Vice Chairman

Like Fisher, Hoenig was always a bit of a bombthrower as president of the Kansas City Fed before he finally retired from the position this year. He declared the Dodd-Frank Act a failure at confronting "too big to fail," warning it did nothing to curb bailouts. He openly doubted that the FDIC would be able to seize and dismantle a large institution should it ever get into financial trouble.

It was ironic, then, when Republicans asked President Obama to nominate Hoenig as vice chairman of the FDIC, where he will now be tasked with helping the agency prepare for the next crisis (his nomination is still pending but enjoys support from both political parties). Still, most observers predict he will work well with new FDIC Chairman Marty Gruenberg and said it may be big banks, not the agency, which have reason to fear. Hoenig has loudly and consistently declared that the only way to make the system less complex is to make the banking business simpler. One way to do that? Break the big banks up. (Image: Bloomberg News)

8. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. 8. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

Only a few hours after Rep. Barney Frank announced he would not seek re-election in 2012, Waters placed a marker down to assume his leadership role on the House Financial Services Committee. The No. 2 Democrat of the full panel and ranking member on the panel's housing subcommittee, Waters was also quick to try and downplay industry fears about her potential ascendance. Although the national media saw Frank as a die-hard liberal, he had a pragmatist streak that bank lobbyists fear Waters will lack if she gains more authority.

Waters has the edge in the race, but her potential rise is far from assured. Dogged by an ethics investigation into whether she improperly helped a struggling bank — in which her husband had a financial interest — gain Troubled Asset Relief Program funds, the case is likely to be the determining factor in whether Democrats give her the top panel job—or pass her over for another candidate. (Image: Bloomberg News)

7. Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J. 7. Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J.

This was the year that the Obama administration was supposed to begin the long process of reforming the government-sponsored enterprises. Instead, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner effectively punted the ball, offering several options designed to please everyone without making any concrete decisions.

But Garrett, the chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee that oversees the GSEs, has not been content to let the matter lie there. The New Jersey Republican has pushed legislation to let a covered bond market flourish in the U.S. and a bill designed to help the secondary market wean its way off a government guarantee.

Rather than just offer an ideologically pure bill, however, Garrett's latter piece of legislation was a serious approach to trying to solve the problem of a secondary market without a government guarantee. While it would remove the guarantee, it would also give the Federal Housing Finance Agency more power to standardize the market — a move that angers some free-market conservatives but which industry players say is necessary.

The conventional wisdom is that nothing can happen in 2012 on GSEs. Even if he can't enact legislation, however, Garrett will at least be trying to move the debate forward. (Image: Bloomberg News)

6. Daniel Tarullo, Federal Reserve Board Governor 6. Daniel Tarullo, Federal Reserve Board Governor

While Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke attempts to save the economy from ruin, he appears to have delegated much of the responsibilities for crafting new international capital and liquidity requirements to Tarullo. A former professor with an expertise on Basel II, Tarullo momentarily panicked bankers when he suggested a surcharge might range a high as 7%. In later testimony, he said although he was pushing for a higher capital ceiling, he never wanted to see it go that high, suggesting his comments were misunderstood. He said he was ultimately satisfied with the 1.5% to 2% range.

More importantly, however, Tarullo has also signaled that regulators will revisit the proposed liquidity guidelines. While they earned virtually no mainstream media attention, many bankers consider the proposal issued by international regulators to be virtually unworkable. Tarullo has said the U.S. agencies are willing to take another look at the plan — and he is likely to be one of the key players in how it shapes up. (Image: Bloomberg News)

5. Tom Curry, nominee for Comptroller of the Currency 5. Tom Curry, nominee for Comptroller of the Currency

Of the recent nominations to the FDIC board, two — Marty Gruenberg as chairman of the FDIC and Hoenig as vice chair -- have a long track record, and a corresponding set of expectations to go with them. By contrast, little is known about how Curry will approach his role as comptroller. As an independent director on the FDIC board for the past few years, Curry is well-versed in the issues facing the industry—but hasn't taken a public stance on many of them.

The chief question is whether Curry, a former state commissioner, will embrace the OCC's interpretation of preemption after the Dodd-Frank Act once he is confirmed. The OCC says the regulatory reform law didn't really change preemption — a position the Obama administration has loudly criticized. What does Curry think? It's anybody's guess, but 2012 is the year we will probably start to have a clue. (Image: Bloomberg News)

4. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. 4. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

For someone in the minority party, Shelby holds an awful lot of power. Even though he lost the fight over the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2010, he has convinced fellow Republicans to hold off on approving the nomination of a director until the Obama administration agrees to make structural changes. It's a political bet that has raised the stakes for both sides—and it's unclear exactly in whose favor. Shelby may have been expecting Obama to deal, but so far, at least, that hasn't happened.

Yet it seems unlikely Shelby will cave, either. Despite immense pressure from the president himself, the Republicans appear to be mostly united behind Shelby. Whether that stays true is tough to say as the issue may take on new importance during the presidential campaign next year. (Image: Bloomberg News)

3. Raj Date, the de-facto head of the CFPB 3. Raj Date, the de-facto head of the CFPB

Date started 2010 as Elizabeth Warren's right-hand man in charge of policy. He ends it as the de-facto leader of the agency for the foreseeable future.

Despite all the angst over the new consumer agency, both Warren and Date have proved remarkably even-keeled in guiding the CFPB's first year. It has focused on building up its staff, tackling consumer complaints and improving disclosures—not exactly the kinds of radical things that generally draw much criticism. But CFPB remains a lightning rod to critics of Dodd-Frank—and Date the man who must face them. (Image: Bloomberg News)

2. Newt Gingrich/Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidates 2. Newt Gingrich/Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidates

Barring a last-minute surprise, either Romney or Gingrich will emerge soon as the GOP's presidential nominee. Although financial services issues used to mean little to a presidential campaign, the financial crisis has fundamentally changed the equation. Already, Gingrich has offered extensive criticisms of Dodd-Frank, which he would like to repeal, and tapped into community bank fears that the new law will overwhelm and destroy them. Romney, in contrast, has taken a more nuanced position. He wants to repeal Dodd-Frank and replace it with more streamlined regulations, while maintaining certain elements of the law, such as its higher capital requirements. No matter who wins, look for banking issues to be a significant part of the campaign. (Image: Bloomberg News)

1. President Barack Obama 1. President Barack Obama

Just as Republicans are seeking to argue Dodd-Frank is a failure, Obama is likely to invoke the law as a major success during the campaign next year. He has already used the presidential bully pulpit to push his nominee for CFPB, and a favorite talking point attempts to portray the GOP as slaves to Wall Street. Given the recent rhetoric from the left-based Occupy Wall Street, Obama is expected to sharpen his criticism of big banks, many of whom supported him in 2008 but are now funneling campaign funds to Republicans.

He may also try new initiatives designed to reinforce his pro-consumer bona fides. Going after banks, at least these days, is an easy way to put points on the political scoreboard. (Image: Bloomberg News)

Regulators and lawmakers set to have a significant impact on banks next year.

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