Ask Me Later

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank has many talents, but apparently being a psychic is not one of them.

At a press conference on the White House lawn last week with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, Frank was asked what the major issues will be if a regulatory reform bill passes the Senate and needs to be reconciled with the (very different) House version.

"We don't know yet. The bill hasn't passed," Frank responded. "Why don't you ask me what the weather's going to be on Memorial Day? I'm not the Farmer's Almanac."

But Dodd was willing to take a guess, answering, with a laugh, "hopefully none."

Dodd also offered a forecast for Memorial Day.

"It's going to be a good day."

Hold Your Fire

"Loose cannon" is not usually a term of endearment.

But apparently that is how economist Dean Baker meant it in describing consumer protector Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor and Congress' chief Tarp watchdog, in a New York Times story last week.

The story, a profile of Warren, mentioned the industry criticism she has received for her disparagement of financial firms and ardent support for a new consumer protection agency. It called Baker a "Warren supporter" and quoted him as saying, " 'Loose cannon' would be an appropriate term to apply in her case."

Baker, a co-director the Center for Economic and Policy Research, clearly regretted the remark. In a statement released Friday, he said he had nothing but positive things to say about Warren and her work as head of the Congressional Oversight Panel.

He said the term was meant as a compliment. "The point was that she is not someone who defers to power and therefore may not make life easy for politicians satisfied with the status quo. This was an unfortunate choice of words on my part. Ms. Warren certainly is overwhelmingly qualified for any position for which she may be considered," Baker said.

Who Invited Him?

Speaking of regret, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce may have wished last week that it hadn't asked Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin to be its keynote speaker after he attacked the group for its $3 million advertising campaign against financial reform.

Wolin said the Chamber was trying to kill reform, not improve it. "It is designed to delay reform until the memory of the crisis fades and the political will for change dies out," he said.

The Chamber of Commerce has come under criticism for its sometimes dubious ad campaign that included claims a new consumer protection agency would target butchers and bakers in addition to banks (it wouldn't).

But Chamber President Thomas Donohue did not give any ground, calling Wolin's comments a "political speech" and rejecting the Treasury official's claims that the group was little more than a "special interest."

Donohue said the White House was more than happy for the Chamber's support when it attempted to pass a stimulus bill and reform General Motors. He warned Wolin not to pursue the group further.

"I hope that we're not going to have the White House doing what they've done for a long time on 'special interests' and lobbyists and everyone who has a view," he said.

Changing Course

Richard M. Whiting has accumulated many fans in the 25 years he has represented large financial companies in Washington and one big reason is his ability — and willingness — to explain complex banking laws.

Georgetown University Law School recognized that talent earlier this month when it awarded its Vicennial Medal to Whiting, the executive director and general counsel of the Financial Services Roundtable. Whiting has been on Georgetown's faculty for two decades, teaching the Federal Law of Financial Institutions course in its Masters of Laws program. Some of the nearly 1,000 students who have taken his class went to work on Capitol Hill, writing the laws Whiting's class covers.

With a regulatory reform bill nearing enactment, we asked Whiting how much the course will change. "Everything," he said.

As chairman of the American Bar Association's banking law professors committee, Whiting is hosting a meeting in June to discuss how teaching of the law will change. "It's going to be a whole new ballgame," he said. "It's going to be fun."

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