Four months after its creation, a congressionally appointed panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group is opening a 15-month investigation into the causes of last year's economy-crippling financial collapse. The 10-member, bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission holds its first meeting on Thursday.
With a budget of $5 million, its instructions are to submit findings to lawmakers by December 2010, long after Congress hopes to have a new regulations in place for preventing another Wall Street meltdown.
That deadline also assures that the findings won't have any impact on the 2010 congressional races.
The commission is co-chaired by Democrat Phil Angelides and Republican Bill Thomas, both from California. Angelides is a former state treasurer who in 2006 unsuccessfully challenged Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor. Thomas is the former Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The panel's executive director is Thomas Greene, a high-profile lawyer who was the lead attorney in a California case against the tobacco industry that resulted in a $26 billion settlement. Greene also brought several civil cases against Enron and worked on an antitrust case against Microsoft, according to a biography released by the panel.
Both the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress said at the start of this year that overhauling how the government regulates banks and related financial businesses was a top priority. But that effort is bogged down in partisan bickering as well as differences between the Obama administration and key Democrats in Congress on what the new regulatory structure should be.
And after passing a $787 billion bill to stimulate an economic recovery, Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate put health care reform and global warming ahead of dealing again with the financial collapse.
While nearly every member of Congress agrees that the current regulatory structure is too lax in allowing banks and other lenders to write bad mortgages and sell them off to investors, Republicans and the financial industry say Obama's plan would increase consumer costs and limit choices.
There's been little fanfare surrounding the financial inquiry commission. Just what impact it might have is uncertain. But at the start of its work in 2006, the Iraq Study Group also got little attention. It rose in prominence as violence in Iraq increased and ended up profoundly affecting the national security debate.