Rookie reps like Ayanna Pressley promise big changes on Maxine Waters-led House Financial Committee

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The House Financial Services Committee has historically been regarded as a prime assignment for members of Congress—especially because many of them have received campaign donations from the industries (banking, real estate and insurance) the committee is in charge of regulating. This week, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) made history as she took over leadership of this important committee—becoming the first woman and black lawmaker to do so.

This year, some of the freshman members of the committee are pledging to do things differently—rejecting corporate money and instead focusing on protecting Americans from things like predatory practices, debt and systemic inequality. Three of the newest members on the committee are rising stars in the Democratic Party: Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

In a recent interview with The Boston Globe, Pressley spoke about why she wanted this assignment and her policy priorities for the committee going forward.

Pressley originally ran to address inequality in her district and believes that a spot on the committee will allow her to continue work she’d already been doing locally on consumer debt, affordable housing and consumer protection. When it comes to housing, she’s particularly excited about taking on Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson.

“The thing I’m most excited about is to keep Ben Carson in my sightline. He has all but abandoned public housing. I have one of the largest housing developments in the country.”

This is great news. We need someone to remain vigilant and make sure that HUD doesn’t complete collapse under the inept leadership of Carson. In addition to making sure the people of her district have access to fair, affordable housing and that poor people in public housing aren’t made more vulnerable in the Trump administration, Pressley is also thinking about student debt. With the largest concentration of college students in the country residing in her district, Pressley says “student debt is crippling and handicapping dreams.” She is concerned about predatory agreements where students take on huge loans and sign away huge portions of their income for decades. Pressley also plans to address the wealth and wage gap and has a plan to address those issues from an intersectional framework which looks across dynamics of race, class and gender.

One important thing that Pressley plans to do differently than predecessors on the committee is to reject corporate PAC money. The previous Congress accepted more than $30 million from PACs and individuals in the finance, real estate and insurance sectors. Though this is legal, its shouldn’t be as it is a blatant conflict of interest. Pressley does not want nor believes she needs to accept money from those companies whose industries are under the jurisdiction of the committee.

I think we’ve proven that this is a representative democracy — and our campaign did expand the table of democracy by igniting and growing the electorate, by engaging new voices, by lifting up the voices of those who contributed one penny, one dollar and ensuring they have a stake in government and can take part in building our promise for tomorrow. That’s what I’m about and that’s not only what I espouse, that’s what I practice, so no, I will not be accepting those contributions.

The women of the freshman class of this Congress are ambitious, smart and motivated. It is exciting to see them step into leadership so boldly and to have a clear vision for governing that they are bringing to the table. In the time of unfettered capitalism, greed and growing economic inequality, it will be important to have members of the House Financial Services Committee who are focused on doing what’s right for everyday people and not the super wealthy.

Under the leadership of Rep. Maxine Waters, the committee will no doubt do incredibly important work in the next two years. And with Pressley and her freshman colleagues on it, we can rest assured that much needed change and reform are coming.

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