February 27, 2009
How Powerful is Elizabeth Warren?
Posted by David Zaring

Elizabeth Warren is a blogger, taught me Secured Transactions, and, perhaps more to the point, is the the head of the Congressional Oversight Panel, charged with reviewing the government's implementation of the TARP.  This panel was appointed by Congressional leaders (for appointments clause junkies, the outfit is probably constitutional because it exclusively advises Congress, and so does not have executive authority), and includes a New York State banking supervisor and a former union official.  Here's the Nation with a relatively loving profile of Warren.

Sounds like a pretty liberal group, and Warren laced into the Bush Administration a couple of times for failing to explain in sufficient detail what its goals and plans were in implementing the TARP.  But political types who expected her and the COP to disappear in a new administration just heard this regarding homeowner aid:

"It's a bold plan, and that's encouraging. But at this moment, we don't have enough detail, and unfortunately with the foreclosure mitigation plans, the devil is in the details," said Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard University law professor who heads the Congressional Oversight Panel charged with monitoring use of taxpayer bailout funds. "There have been big headlines in the past, and the details never caught up with the early promises."

Warren has consistently asked for more information over the course of the crisis.  How miserable can she and the COP make Treasury if it fails to provide it?  The panel cannot prosecute wrongdoers, and it has no power to administer any part of the TARP.  However, it can do a bit more than issue blue ribbon reports.  Specifically, the COP can take testimony under oath, which could put officials who testify to it at risk for perjury prosecutions.  Under the EESA,

The Oversight Panel may, for the purpose of carrying out this section, hold hearings, sit and act at times and places, take testimony, and receive evidence as the Panel considers appropriate and may administer oaths or affirmations to witnesses appearing before it.
...
The Oversight Panel may secure directly from any department or agency of the United States information necessary to enable it to carry out this section. Upon request of the Chairperson of the Oversight Panel, the head of that department or agency shall furnish that information to the Oversight Panel.

After the jump, the purposes that the COP is supposed to serve.

Regular reports of the Oversight Panel shall include the following:
(i) The use by the Secretary of authority under this Act, including with respect to the use of contracting
authority and administration of the program.
(ii) The impact of purchases made under the Act on the financial markets and financial institutions.
(iii) The extent to which the information made available on transactions under the program has
contributed to market transparency.
(iv) The effectiveness of foreclosure mitigation efforts, and the effectiveness of the program from the
standpoint of minimizing long-term costs to the taxpayers and maximizing the benefits for taxpayers.

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Comments (1)

1. Posted by Mark S. Devenow on February 28, 2009 @ 8:49 | Permalink

It seems to me, reviewing the language excerpted from the EESA, that the COP lacks subpoena power. Thus, even if it's true that there might be a political price to be paid for executive branch recalcitrance relative to the COP, determined resistance would be insurmountable.

Of course, the REAL TEST in this connection is unlikely to be posed where you have a presidency with an ultra liberal orientation to begin with: Prof Warren's extreme left wing zealotry fitting in nicely with the overseers of economic policy in the Obama administration in any case. But in a different context the COP might amount to an emperor with no clothes.

Finally, were I a Harvard Law grad (I am not), the very last person I would be trumpeting for having been my professor would be Elizabeth Warren. Jay Westbrook at Texas has been doing her real work for years leaving the liberal witch free to extend her self-promotional bacchanal without having to actually produce any real work of academic/scholarly consequence for years.

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