TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Tess Vigeland: This week regulators from the SEC, the Federal Reserve and beyond went to Capitol Hill to warn of underfunded budgets, especially in light of what they’re supposed to be doing under the Financial Reform Act. House Republicans put an item into their budget proposal to cut funding for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau almost in half. But amid the budget noise, the bureau set up a new website and a Twitter account asking for your thoughts on credit cards and mortgages. So we thought we’d ask Elizabeth Warren for her thoughts. She’s helping to get the bureau up and running. Welcome back to the program.
Elizabeth Warren: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Vigeland: You gave a speech this week at the 75th anniversary of Consumers Union and accused critics of this new bureau of trying to chip away at its independence. And this, of course, is a reference to efforts on Capitol Hill to withhold funding for the agency. You warned this fight is not over, so what steps are you taking?
Warren: Partly the steps we’re taking is we’re getting out there and doing our business. We’re setting up this agency like we’re supposed to. We’re starting to produce pieces of what’s going to be new things coming out of the consumer agency — shortened credit agreements, trying to get rid of fine print, we’re trying to set the teams in place who will be able to enforce the law. You know, we’re doing our job.
Vigeland: How much of that are you able to do now? Or do you have to wait until July?
Warren: As you rightly indicate, our legal powers come into effect on July 21st of this year. So this our put-it-together phase. But there’s a lot of work to be done in the put-it-together phase, including starting to talk about where we think change is important. We’re telling the industry what it is that we wanna see and we’re already starting to pull them in, have good conversations with them, but to work on prototypes so when July 21st comes, we’ll be ready to go.
Vigeland: Well the bureau does have this new website, and you’ve been asking consumers to write in with their suggestions. What are you hearing about so far, what are the major concerns?
Warren: This is a beta version of the website. My team keeps reminding me it’s not as perfect as it could be and I keep saying, “It’s six months early. This is good.” And so what we’ve done is we’ve launched a feature called “open for suggestions,” and we invite people to send us suggestions, comments. They can send them by Twitter, they can send them by e-mail, they can send them by doing a YouTube video. So a lot of people have, for example, talked to us about the importance of financial education and how they’re hoping we’re going to make this a big priority at the agency. So we have responded and talked about what we hope to do, what our ideas are, but we’re already getting ideas from other people.
Vigeland: I saw a tweet from your agency recently inviting leaders of the religious leader to work with you. What role do you see for them in your consumer protection efforts?
Warren: Well a lot of religious leaders are really on the front lines out there. They’re dealing with people in their congregations across the country — people who have either been slammed recently in the economy or the constant strain of not enough dollars to make it to the end of the month. I see the religious community as potentially a really important partner with this new agency. And they help us think about how to design the right kinds of solutions, understanding the problem and moving toward making some meaningful changes.
Vigeland: One of your most widely known quotes is about how we have, or had, more rules protecting people from exploding toasters than from things like exploding mortgages. How far do you think we’ve come at this point toward changing that and how?
Warren: We haven’t yet changed it. I mean, we’re going to. Hey look, the good news is we’ve got a consumer agency and we’re building it. You know, I wish we were a 60-minute television show. So here after the third commercial, the agency would already be up and running and have all its pieces in place and the cute people who work here would already be ready for their star turns. But the good news is we have opened the door.
Vigeland: Elizabeth Warren, thank you so much for joining us.
Warren: Thank you.
Vigeland: And that website is consumerfinance.gov.
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