Ocasio-Cortez, freshmen poised to take on Wall Street

Ocasio-Cortez, freshmen poised to take on Wall Street
© Greg Nash

An influx of young, progressive freshman members, headlined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezLouisiana Rep. Troy Carter announces positive COVID-19 test Joining Pelosi, Hoyer says lawmakers should be free to trade stocks Schumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema MORE (D-N.Y.), is set to create new headaches for Wall Street and its allies in Washington.

Ocasio-Cortez and several of her newly elected Democratic colleagues are joining the Financial Services Committee, the powerful House panel overseeing banks, lenders and markets.

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The rising liberal stars will soon enjoy a prominent platform in their efforts to push the party to the left, moves that could result in clashes with Democratic colleagues such as Reps. Jim Hines (Conn.) and Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerRedistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want Democrats gain edge from New Jersey Redistricting Commission-approved maps Progressives look to regroup after Build Back Better blowup MORE (N.J.) who have close ties to the financial sector.

Reps. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyHouse votes to award medal to Willie O'Ree, first Black NHL player It's time for President Biden to use his vast clemency power Ayanna Pressley says she has tested COVID-19 positive in breakthrough case MORE (D-Mass.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibHouse Democrats inquire about possible census undercount in Detroit, other communities Michigan redistricting spat exposes competing interests in Democratic coalition Tlaib announces run in new Detroit district with Lawrence retiring MORE (D-Mich.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) appear to be ideologically in step with Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersRemedying injustice for the wrongfully convicted does not end when they are released McCarthy says he'll strip Dems of committee slots if GOP wins House A presidential candidate pledge can right the wrongs of an infamous day MORE (D-Calif.), the new head of the Financial Services Committee who has pledged to “undo the damage” of Trump administration regulatory rollbacks and to hold big banks under close scrutiny.

On Wednesday, Waters welcomed the new committee members, saying they had expressed a strong interest in the panel’s work.

“They care about looking out for families. They care about making sure that our big financial institutions are held accountable,” Waters said at the Center for American Progress Action Fund in Washington.

The Financial Services panel in the past has been a comfortable landing spot for business-friendly lawmakers, who often reap millions of dollars in Wall Street campaign donations. But members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are itching to change that dynamic.

“They really do have their finger on the pulse of America and they know that people in this country are hurting, and people are demanding real change,” said Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets, an advocacy group that supports strict financial regulations.

Ocasio-Cortez linked her selection for the committee to the Occupy Wall Street movement sparked by the 2008 financial crisis and recession. She said the Financial Services panel was “where big bank lobbyists were slipping in their work,” allowing firms “to gamble with people’s lives and the economy as a whole.”

“It’s a huge win,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Wednesday. “Keep paying attention, chipping into campaigns, and being activists. It works.”

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Tuesday night that she plans to focus on student loans and postal banking, though those issues are unlikely to be taken up immediately.

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“I don’t think there’s very much that will be addressed at the full committee level that Chair Waters doesn’t want to address,” said Brandon Barford, a partner  at Beacon Policy Advisors who worked on the Senate Banking Committee.

Waters and several of the freshman firebrands share many of the same priorities, such as tackling homelessness and financial services access for underserved communities.

Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley say they’re eager to address the housing finance system and obstacles faced by vulnerable homeowners and renters.

Pressley said in a statement that banking and housing laws are responsible for “entrenched disparities” in her Boston district, and that she’ll fight “to ensure that Federal policy lives up to the ideals of equity and justice.”

Porter, a former consumer law professor who represented California families facing foreclosure during the recession, has already drawn comparisons to Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenLobbying world Sanders open to supporting primary challengers against Manchin and Sinema Warren dodges on whether Sinema, Manchin should be challenged in primaries MORE (D-Mass.).

“On any given day, particularly when they act together, it’s going to bring a whole new level of attention to those committee hearings,” said Charles Gabriel, president of analytics firm Capital Alpha Partners. “There’s a chance that this is going to be a net plus.”

While most of the freshmen are in line with Waters on policy, several have pledged to radically transform Congress and buck members in both parties who stick to the status quo.

Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley both won primaries against Democratic incumbents, and the New York Democrat has vowed to support progressive primary challengers to some of her own party colleagues in the House. That could pose issues for Waters, an accomplished deal-maker who often struck bipartisan agreements with devoutly conservative Financial Services members.

“She’s much more pragmatic than people believe. At the end of the day, she’s about action about getting things done,” said a former Senate aide now representing financial firms on K Street. “She does not want infighting within the party. That just looks like a party in disarray and that will reflect on her as the chairwoman.”