I just got back from DC after a whirlwind trip (Saturday to Tuesday). I hate flying cross country; it really bothers my injury. But I thought it would be interesting to go to the Dept. of Treasury with a bunch of bloggers and kick it with a host of Treasury officials including Tim Geithner. It was an "off-the-record" meeting and I think that made the participants more relaxed to speak freely, but did they say anything they might not have because it was supposed to be off the record? I doubt it.
I brought up the fact that they were losing their political capital on the CFPA if they move it to the Fed because the public wants it to be an independent agency with actual power. Unfortunately, they seemed to think that as long as it had the teeth they wanted, they weren't--and the public shouldn't be--concerned where it was housed. And then of course some members brought up that the Senate (Dodd and Corker) still had to work out their issues first anyway and they intimated how problematic the Senate has been. I pushed the point that it does matter where it's housed, especially to the American public.
Another issue brought up is one many bloggers have talked about: Republicans do an incredible job with messaging. And the Obama White House has been terrible framing their priorities. The Treasury officials admitted that they weren't very good at getting their message out there. Some seemed resigned to it, while others admitted there was a pressing need to get better at it.
Felix Salmon of Reuters has a very good piece up about the meeting:
I can’t quote what anybody said, even anonymously, but I can tell you that the message from Treasury was that financial reform is not dead in the Senate, and that in fact on some matters, including derivatives reform, there’s real hope that the Senate can put something together that’s even stronger than what the House passed. I’ll believe it when I see it, but the general idea seems to be that so long as something gets out of committee, the final bill might actually have some teeth.
More generally, I came away with the impression that life at Treasury is not much fun, on a day-to-day basis, and that the stresses of trying to set economic policy in the face of strong opposition from both the banking lobby and the Republican party are wearing on the officials there.
We really need to keep the pressure up on this issue. The CFPA is too important.
And if you don't already know, Felix is an excellent blogger if you're into the financial sector. We talked a bit at the post-meeting dinner which he organized and I really liked him personally. And it's not because I dug his British accent either.
Barney Frank was on with Andrea Mitchell today and said he wants the financial reform conference televised.
AMONG THE EXPECTED DIFFERENCES: Frank has expressed extreme displeasure with a Senate deal, developing at the committee level, to create a consumer protection division within the Federal Reserve, rather than the stand-alone Consumer Financial Protection Agency in the House-passed bill. Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd conceded to a scaled-back consumer body in order to win Republican votes. Frank clearly thinks the politics of the financial reform debate are on his side. "Maybe Senate Republicans want to sit there on C-SPAN in a full public conference and take that position; I don’t think so," Frank said of the consumer protection issue. "We’re going to thrash this out in conference. And I think, frankly, these issues fully debated in public may have a somewhat different outcome."
Spin usually works in the Beltway because traditional journalists want to keep their access at all costs, but as for most bloggers, that's not the case. C&L doesn't live off of the access we are given to the White House and so I say spin away, but I think they were smart enough to know that. Some of it was spin of course, because they do want to make their case for their actions but some of it was honesty as best as I could tell.
Ryan Grim reported here that the Treasury isn't too thrilled with auditing the Fed. I said that I wished they showed the same passion in framing their arguments in other areas and I wasn't only directing it at Treasury.
John Aravosis at Americablog also was there and he writes:
The meeting began on the record with the Deputy Secretary telling us about a new policy to permit private citizens in Iran, Sudan and Cuba to be able to legally have access to free US-based Internet services like Twitter and YouTube. It was a bit vague, and we pressed for more specificity, but perhaps this post over at Tapped will help explain it better.
Overall it was a very interesting meeting with Geithner. The administration should have started holding these kinds of meetings a year ago. Still, I think it was worthwhile, and other agencies should copy what Treasury did today (but on the record - or at least part on, part off).