Warren Reaches Out to Business Community
As originally appearing in Boston Business Journal

By Jon Chesto, Managing Editor

The Elizabeth Warren on display in February at her first hearing while on the Senate’s banking committee was exactly the Elizabeth Warren many people expected when she became our new U.S. senator two months ago. She chastised two top regulators about the fact their federal agencies hadn’t taken banks all the way to trial for their bad actions. She seemed to be carrying the Occupy Wall Street flag, standing up for the 99 percent.

The Elizabeth Warren who showed up at the Seaport Hotel in South Boston on Monday took a very different approach. This time, her audience was the New England Council, a group that lobbies in Washington on behalf of this region’s business interests.

Warren pledged, from the outset of her speech on Monday, that she will be a supporter for local businesses, referring to her academic career at Harvard studying “what makes business work.”

Warren told the crowd: “I’ll work with you, I’ll listen to you, I’ll learn from you and I’ll advocate for you.”

This was a carefully calibrated approach aimed to reassure the believers and win over the undecided audience members. Warren made her case for why increased regulations — or, as she says, creating “the conditions that make markets work” — as well as additional government investments are important for local companies’ success.

To bolster her case for increased regulations, she pointed to the mortgage market meltdown, caused in part by unregulated brokers who sold half-baked home loans under the radar. “The lack of home mortgage regulation ended up hurting every business that suffered during this recession,” Warren said. “Someone else got the profits and everybody else ended up paying the price.”

Later, in a brief Q&A session, Warren pointed to the potential for more regulations, citing emerging efforts in Washington to crack down on reverse mortgages and on credit bureau errors.

Warren focused her speech on the need for the kind of federal spending that she said can help the business community. Investments in education. Investments in roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Investments in research and development.

This, of course, carried an additional resonance with the latest budget debacle in Washington. She had nothing but angry words to say for the politicians in Washington that are staking out intractable positions that would cause automatic across-the-board cuts to take effect. “We seem to have government that works only by holdout,” she said. “This is democracy on the line.”

Warren didn’t offer much in the way of specifics, as far as what the government should be doing differently with tax revenue. For example, she was asked about what she would do to improve the educational system, and she answered quickly by saying she would spend “more and more.”

Of course, Warren is still in her grace period. She just arrived in Washington less than two months ago. The business leaders in the audience were polite and respectful. No one lobbied any backhanded questions designed more to make a point than solicit an answer. Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry and SEC chief Elisse Walter weren’t so lucky when they were in that hearing with Warren.

Jim Brett, the CEO of the New England Council, said Warren made a promise that she would talk to the council members soon after she was elected. She delivered on that promise, and it’s a good guess that Warren knows she’ll have to deliver more than an affable breakfast speech to win over the business community for real.

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