Banking gavel could fall to Wall Street critic

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Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) is next in line behind Johnson for the gavel, but most in Washington believe he is more interested in taking the reins of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Next up in seniority on the Banking Committee is Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who serves in Senate Democratic leadership as vice chairman of the Democratic caucus. Schumer's New York roots give him ties and experience with the financial industry, but if he is unwilling to leave a leadership gig for the top spot on Banking, the gavel would then fall to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

Menendez is already occupied with another chairmanship, recently taking over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and might not be interested in leaving that behind for the Banking gavel.

That would leave Brown, a major Wall Street critic who has advocated for breaking up the nation's biggest banks and one of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) fiercest advocates on Capitol Hill.

Brown recently introduced Richard Cordray before the committee as Cordray tried again to win Senate confirmation to stay on as director of the CFPB. In his introduction, Brown railed against "Wall Street special interests and their allies in Congress" for blocking Cordray's nomination, accusing Republicans of "unprecedented" obstructionism.

Brown has also introduced legislation that would cap bank size and accused big banks of enjoying "too big to fail" perks. On Friday, he and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) worked to include an amendment in the Senate Democrat budget that would theoretically eliminate any subsidy a big financial institution receives because of its size. It was agreed to unanimously.

A panel led by Brown would take a strikingly different tone than the one helmed by Johnson.

Johnson was subject to some grumbling by consumer advocates, who noted his previous support of industry interests, when he first took control of the committee. As chairman, Johnson took a deliberate approach in leading the committee, emphasizing the need for bipartisan agreement when it came to advancing legislation.

He also served as a staunch defender of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, refusing to consider even slight changes for fear that opponents of the law would maneuver to weaken it. He has walked in lock-step with President Obama on financial regulatory matters.

While Brown has railed against “too big to fail,” the White House is adamant that the idea is dead and buried thanks to Dodd-Frank tools that help regulators address failing financial institutions without a bailout.