Why Bair Will Lose Her Fight with Geithner

July 1, 2009
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The pitched battle over regulatory reform essentially boils down to two perspectives. There is the Geithner camp that argues systemic risk should be monitored and minimized when it pops up. And there is the Sheila Bair camp that says the prospect of concentrated systemic risk should be eliminated before it has a chance to surface, much in the way Teddy Roosevelt eliminated the opportunity for trusts to surface.

Whichever side you agree with (I favor Bair’s) matters little, because the ultimate winner will be crowned not on merit, but on another factor: access to President Obama.

This week The New Yorker published an interested, if flawed profile of Sheila Bair, the chairwoman of the FDIC. Beyond the article’s main, glaring shortcoming (it doesn’t acknowledge that Bair had a part in failing to prevent the subprime mortgage meltdown), it raises an interesting detail about Bair’s access to Obama:

As the head of an independent agency far from the West Wing’s inner circle, Bair has limited access to the President. She has met with him privately just once this year, on Air Force One, returning from an event in Arizona where he announced his mortgage-relief plan, modelled on the loan-modification ideas that Bair had long advocated.

Bair has, in fact, attended other meetings with the president and his other advisors, but still it is clear that Bair has little access to Obama. John Dugan, the Comptroller of the Currency, too has met with Obama only a few times.

Not Timothy Geithner. He meets with president, face to face, almost daily. I get the Treasury Department’s daily schedule for Geithner. Almost everyday the following appears at the top of the list:

On [INSERT DAY HERE] morning, Secretary Geithner will attend the President’s Daily Economic Briefing at the White House. This meeting is closed press.

Bair is well outside the loop — and no policy argument can overcome that, which is why Obama’s proposed regulatory reform schema looks like it was written by Geithner, with only margin comments from Bair. Why else would the Federal Reserve, the propagator of systemic risk, be assigned with the job of monitoring systemic risk?

You know what they say about real estate? Location, location, location. The same holds true in Washington, DC, it seems.

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One Response to Why Bair Will Lose Her Fight with Geithner

  1. jjhornblass on July 1, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Gary, those are the exact questions I had about the administration’s proposals for regulatory reform! To date, your (and my) questions have not been answered!

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