Cantwell: Hero in book on Obama heavies

Source: Seattle PI

The White House is reacting with screeching denials to Ron Suskind’s new book "Confidence Men," which depicts President Obama’s 2009-10 economic team as boors and sexists at work for a detached president.

But Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., should buy copies for friends and display "Confidence Men" at her fundraisers.

The book describes Cantwell as a canny, tireless force for Wall Street reform. She takes on such big boys as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and presses Commodities Futures Trading Commission Chair Gary Gensler to take a tough line overseeing the financial industry.

A Suskind quote:

"(A) team of women — led by Blair, Mary Schapiro, chairwoman of the SEC, Elizabeth Warren, heading the Troubled Assets Relief Program Oversight Panel; and the irrepressible Maria Cantwell — was asserting its primacy.

"They had virtually all been right, and right early, about the way America’s financial system was drifting toward crisis.  All of them had been shooed away and shouted down by the men, both those manning Wall Street and those atop Washington’s regulatory or economic policy posts, who quietly asserted that high finance might be the final mountaintop stronghold of ‘man’s work’."

Cantwell got into this "man’s work" by probing memos by which Enron traders manipulated the Northwest’s 2000-01 energy shortage – using schemes titled "Death Star" and "Fat Boy."

She also received a key Senate posting.

Just re-elected in 2006, Cantwell was in China when reached by phone by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  He offered her a seat on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, on which no Washington senator had served for over 50 years.

The Suskind book depicts Cantwell as influenced by Enron maneuvers, which jacked up the price of electricity in the West, and by the meltdown of Seattle-based Washington Mutual due reckless lending practices on home mortgages.

In the Finance Committee, according to Suskind, Cantwell used Geithner’s confirmation hearings to press for Wall Street reform. He writes:

"In concert with a cadre of progressives, Cantwell began her campaign to use the confirmation hearings to shape financial reform.  When her turn came around, she grilled Geithner on exactly what he was planning to do to re-regulate the financial industry, pressing him for specifics that left other committee members checking their briefing materials."

The senator’s probing of other nominees helped push the White House to put together a financial reform package. Suskind writes:

"If Gensler wanted his job, Cantwell made clear, he’s have to speak loudly and clearly.  He said, in endless hearings before the Senate Finance Committee that mistakes were made at the end of the Clinton era, something Summers and Geithner would never say.

"He said that regulating the $600 trillion derivatives markets, where one $50 tank of gas supports $5,000 in derivatives trades, is the most important thing that can be done in this period to change a ‘Wall Street culture that has permeated’ the economic life of the country’."

("Summers" is Larry Summers, U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, ex-president of Harvard University — a heavy in the movie "The Social Network" — and head of the National Economic Council under Obama.)

Obama will be on the 2012 ballot, which makes the White House anxious to discredit Suskind’s book.

But two of Suskind’s heroes are also likely to face voters.  Cantwell is running for reelection in Washington.  Elizabeth Warren is the likely Democratic nominee to face Massachusetts’ GOP Sen. Scott Brown.