Sheila Bair exits FDIC

@CNNMoney July 8, 2011: 5:22 AM ET
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Sheila Bair will be replaced by Martin Gruenberg as chairman of the FDIC.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The chairman of the FDIC is not usually a household name. But the last few years have been anything but usual.

Sheila Bair, who shepherded the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. through one of the worst financial shocks in history, emerged as a central figure in the government's response to the banking crisis that dominated her five years in office.

She was lauded for broadening the FDIC's power to take over large financial institutions that pose a threat to the economy and pushing banks to modify home loans for troubled borrowers.

Bair's tenure ends Friday. Enter Martin Gruenberg, her low-profile successor.

The FDIC's vice chairman, Gruenberg was nominated in June by President Obama. He will become acting chairman on Monday, pending Senate approval.

"Marty brings a deep understanding of the mission of the FDIC," said Don Powell, who was FDIC chairman from 2001 to 2005.

Gruenberg, a Democrat, has already served a stint as acting chairman of the FDIC. Shortly after being sworn in as vice chairman in 2005, he was the interim chief for seven months before Bair took over in early 2006.

A long-time staffer on the Senate Banking Committee, Gruenberg was involved in the creation of several key pieces of financial legislation, including an overhaul of the FDIC in 1991.

An FDIC spokesman said Gruenberg is not commenting at this time.

Gruenberg enjoys wide support from both industry and consumer advocates.

Who would follow Geithner?

Scott Talbott, head lobbyist at the Financial Services Roundtable, declined to take a position on Gruenberg's nomination. But he has worked with Gruenberg in the past and found him to be "very thoughtful."

"His practice is to listen carefully to all sides before making a decision," said Talbott.

Travis Plunkett, legislative director at the Consumer Federation of America, also said he has worked with Gruenberg. Without taking a position on his nomination, Plunkett said the FDIC has been "the most far sighted banking regulator when it comes to consumer protection" over the last few years.

The Senate banking committee hopes to vote on Gruenberg's nomination soon, but it could be a while before he is confirmed by the full Senate.

While Obama has been criticized for being slow to name nominees, Republicans in the Senate have blocked many of the president's picks for key regulatory agencies involved in implementing last year's sweeping overhaul of the financial system.

Nobel prize winner Peter Diamond, fed up with months of political wrangling over his nomination to the Federal Reserve's board of governors, withdrew his name last month.

In addition to two open seats at the Fed, Obama's nominee for the Federal Housing Finance Agency was shot down by Senate Republicans last year. The FHFA, which oversees the troubled mortgage-backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, remains under the control of an acting director.

Meanwhile, Obama has taken some heat for waiting nearly a year to nominate someone for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates the nation's largest banks.

Obama nominated Thomas Curry, a director at the FDIC, to the job just last week. The OCC has been run since August by acting comptroller John Walsh, who has been widely criticized for being cozy with the industry.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the centerpiece of the administration's efforts to reform the financial system, remains without a Senate-confirmed leader.

House Democrats have called on Obama to install Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor who conceived of the bureau and has been working as a special adviser to get it going, during the next Senate recess. The bureau officially launches later this month.  To top of page

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