Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is about to make a lot more news in the world of finance after getting a coveted spot on the powerful House Financial Services Committee, which oversees the banking industry.
But Ocasio-Cortez isn’t the only reason you should be paying attention. Maxine Waters (D-CA) just took over as chair of the committee, and a number of progressive Democrats in the mix beyond Ocasio-Cortez are sure to make some noise from their perches.
Waters announced the list of 16 new Democratic appointees to the financial services committee overnight Wednesday. Eight of them are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a left-leaning group of members. That list includes Ocasio-Cortez as well as Reps. Katie Porter (D-CA), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).
Ocasio-Cortez, the most high-profile new member of Congress, confirmed she would be joining the Financial Services Committee ahead of the official announcement this week. She’s also laid out her agenda there — and why she thinks her addition matters. She pointed out that financial services has historically been what’s known as a “money committee” — a good spot for members to fundraise for reelection.
But she said she thinks that’s about to change.
“I cannot stress how important this moment is,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Dems are putting members who rejected corporate campaign money on a committee overseeing Wall St.”
She’s not alone in singing that tune. Waters, in an event at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, declared that it would be a “new day in Congress for the Financial Services Committee.”
But it’s not so cut and dried: while there are a number of new and progressive members of the committee who are sure to push it to the left, there are more moderate Democrats on the committee as well. And, of course, Republicans.
“The ideological balance of the House Financial Services Committee has undoubtedly tacked left, but the magnitude of that change is unclear at this stage,” Isaac Boltansky, an analyst at investment firm Compass Point LLC, said in an email. “On the one hand, there will be a pronounced focus on the committee’s new progressives, and Chair Waters is likely to wield the gavel differently than her predecessor. On the other hand, there are still a number of moderate Democrats on the committee that will look for consensus, and Chair Waters has demonstrated an openness to brokering deals in the past.”
The House Financial Services Committee, briefly explained
The House Financial Services Committee oversees the US housing and financial services sectors, including banking, insurance, real estate, public and assisted housing, and securities. Under its purview are the Housing and Urban Development Department, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Basically, that means that the committee can call bank executives and federal regulators to Capitol Hill for them to testify at hearings, like it did with then-Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf after it was discovered that Wells Fargo employees created millions of fake accounts. Regulators, such as the head of the CFPB, have to report to the committee regularly. In the era of President Donald Trump, committee Democrats may also look to get information on the president’s finances — for example, digging into his dealings with Deutsche Bank.
Waters on Wednesday pledged “many hearings” to come.
The committee can also craft and pass legislation. During the previous Congress, for example, Waters and former Rep. Jeb Hensarling put together the JOBS Act 3.0, a package of 32 financial regulatory proposals including changes to credit access, investment disclosures, and capital raising. (The bill went nowhere in the Senate.) It ensures the enforcement of laws such as the Truth in Lending Act and the Community Reinvestment Act and the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program and the Export-Import Bank.
Typically, the committee has had a bit of a reputation
Ocasio-Cortez isn’t wrong in saying that the financial services committee has traditionally been seen as a good landing spot for those in need of raising money. As such, it’s often attracted moderate Democrats or individuals likely to face tough reelection races.
Waters acknowledged as much at the CAP event on Wednesday.
“This was known as a juice committee. There is no more juice in this committee,” she said. So-called “juice committees” are the same thing as money committees: ones that oversee lucrative industries and are a platform for fundraising.
Porter, a consumer protection attorney and protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), told Politico’s Zachary Warmbrodt and Heather Caygle that she doesn’t take money from corporate PACs and expects other members will do the same.
“This is going to change the perspective on the committee and the issues it chooses to focus on,” she said.
New Democrats in Congress are getting a lot of attention, but Waters is still in charge.
A number of the new Democrats assigned to the financial services committee celebrated their appointments and laid out what they might want to tackle.
Ocasio-Cortez in a tweet on Tuesday said she wants to focus on the student loan crisis, for-profit prisons, and the development of public and postal banking.
Personally, I’m looking forward to digging into the student loan crisis, examining for-profit prisons/ICE detention, and exploring the development of public & postal banking. To start.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 16, 2019
Pressley in a statement to Politico said her spot on the committee would let her ensure federal policy “lives up to the ideals of equity and justice when it comes to ensuring critical consumer protections, fair housing, and economic opportunity.”
To anyone that’s ever come home to an eviction notice, felt overwhelmed by student debt or worked the 2nd&3rd shift - when I learned that I was appointed to the Financial Services Committee @FSCDems tonight I thought of you. We belong everywhere. I’ll never stop fighting for you.— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) January 16, 2019
”If you’re interested in issues about inequality, about financial stability, about the middle class and its struggles to pay for college and buy a house and save for retirement, then this is an important committee to be on,” Porter told Politico.
Porter may be especially interesting to watch because consumer issues and financial services fall squarely in her wheelhouse. Porter is a lawyer with expertise in bankruptcy, consumer law, debt, and mortgages. In 2012, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris appointed Porter to be the state’s bank monitor.
While some new progressive members of Congress are getting a lot of attention, there are still more senior Democrats and moderates also in the mix — Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Brad Sherman (D-CA), and Joyce Beatty (D-CA), for example. And Waters, who has a reputation for deal-making, is still driving the bus.
“The question that has to be answered is, are these new members willing to go up against Auntie Maxine?” Jason Rosenstock, a partner at lobbying firm Thorn Run Partners, told me.
Getting legislation through the Republican-controlled Senate and signed by the president is going to be a difficult feat, and the farther to the left that legislation is, the more difficult it gets. The committee will surely pump out legislation anyway, but it’s unclear exactly what it will look like.
“Chair Waters is a skilled legislator, and I think this committee structure will allow her to harness those talents to try to guide the committee to find consensus. She’s a real dealmaker. She’s done it in the past with Republicans, and she may have to do it now internally a bit,” Rosenstock said. “The question is whether the newer members will be willing to sacrifice the perfect for the good.”
But given the attention on the new members — and on Waters — the House Financial Services Committee is likely to drive some headlines going forward, whether with legislation, hearings, or lawmakers making noise. And thus far, they seem pretty enthused about it.
Waters on Wednesday touted the diversity of the committee and the commitment of the new additions. “They care about looking out for families. They care about making sure that our big financial institutions are held accountable,” she said.
And the new additions seem to be excited to work with her. Tlaib on Thursday morning tweeted out a picture of her and Waters together.