Today, the issues before the committee are not any less critical to the country’s economy but its leadership could not look any more polarized.
Holding the gavel now is Rep. Jeb Hensarling, 55, a free-market conservative from rural Texas who believes the government should have hardly any involvement in the economy.
The ranking Democrat is Rep. Maxine Waters, 74, a liberal representing South Los Angeles who believes the government has a role in helping the disadvantaged reach the middle class.
With such a dichotomy of views at its top, the committee may struggle to get anything done, some analysts predict. And a number of pressing matters are on its plate this year, such as revamping the nation’s mortgage system and overseeing the implementation of the financial regulatory overhaul.
“Thus far, I haven’t seen a single instance where I feel encouraged by what the committee is going to accomplish in this Congress,” said Isaac Boltansky, policy analyst at Compass Point Research and Trading.
Given the new dynamic, Hensarling has been cautious about what his committee can deliver. When asked whether his panel will make progress on an overhaul of the mortgage industry, which for years has been propped up by the federal government, his response revealed a certain familiarity with the ways of Capitol Hill.
“I approach it like every other thing in Washington — high hopes and low expectations,” he said in an interview.
Hensarling said he plans to stick to his convictions, but he said there should be ways to find common ground.
“I don’t intend to compromise my principles, nor do I expect any other member to compromise their principles,” Hensarling said. “But we should all be ready to compromise our preferred policies in order to advance those principles.”
Waters said it is too soon to tell whether pressure from the right wing of the Republican Party will make it harder for the committee to make deals.
“I’m sure we will come to some points of strong disagreement,” she said. “And we’ll have an opportunity to see if we can work through it.”
But she noted: “I’m not so sure that all of the [Republicans’] issues are so well defined that they have formed a real approach to dealing with them. Depending on how well they do with that, we’ll determine whether they’re going to push for housing reform in a way that we would absolutely oppose.”
The differences between the two were on display during the committee’s first hearing in February, which wrestled with an independent audit projecting that the Federal Housing Administration will face a $16.3 billion shortfall in the coming years, leaving it unable to cover loans that are likely to default.