Junior Texas Senator Ted Cruz: How can a junior senator from Texas have more control over the House of Representatives than the Speaker of the House of his own party? No one can say for sure, but Cruz was driving the GOP bus as he led a filibuster to hold the Affordable Care Act hostage. This was a slow motion car crash that ended exactly the way everyone knew it would, but the fact that no one could stop it is testament to the dysfunction in Washington.
Speaker of the House John Boehner: Can you be influential by not being influential? When you hold the highest office in Congress and can’t prevent your own party from committing an extreme act of stupidity, that is a significant event. Especially one in which everyone knew what the eventual outcome would be.
Botched ACA web rollout: With the GOP committing Hara Kiri in the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate, all President Obama and Health & Human Services Chair Kathleen Sebelius had to do was not screw up. But the rollout of the Affordable Care Act website was an unmitigated disaster. Yes, there were folks bound and determined to kill the ACA and paint it as a failure however it played out, but the web rollout was something completely under the control of the administration, and they blew it.
George Mitchell: Hydraulic fracking had been around for many decades but Mitchell and his company, Mitchell Energy & Development Corp., are credited with creating advances in the technique that have led to the revolutionary development of shale oil and gas reserves. The huge growth in U.S. production this year offset numerous geopolitical disruptions. A story in The Economist this year referred to Mitchell as the “Father of Fracking” and noted “Few businesspeople have done as much to change the world as George Mitchell.”
Jamie Dimon: Perhaps some of the bloom is off of the rose of the JPMorgan Chairman and CEO after a tough year involving losses and multiple settlements, two of which surpassed the billion dollar threshold. But if you can spend the year writing multi-billion dollar settlement checks and still maintain your job, you must have some pull.
Jeff Sprecher: When Jeff Sprecher and IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) put in a competing bid for the Chicago Board of Trade back in 2006 not many people took it seriously initially, but he nearly snatched the CBOT away from CME Group. In 2013, ICE closed its acquisition of the storied New York Stock Exchange. Enough said.
Ben Bernanke: By announcing the Federal Reserve would begin tapering QE3 at its December FOMC meeting, Fed Chief Ben Bernanke signaled the beginning of the end of the most extraordinary period for the Federal Reserve and perhaps its most significant chairmanship. Faced with the possibility of another “Great Depression,” Bernanke used every tool in his toolbox, as well as inventing a few new tools, to keep the economy above water. And he did it in a period of extreme political dysfunction, ensuring that he would get no help on the fiscal side.
Gary Gensler: When Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler took over the agency in 2009, it was considered a minor regulator, much less important than the Securities and Exchange Commission. But thanks to the financial meltdown of 2008 and resultant Dodd-Frank legislation, the agency has much more clout, and Gensler wielded it spending most of 2013 not only finalizing rules for over-the-counter trading in the United States but also for the rest of the world, much to its chagrin.
Edward Snowden: Whether you think Snowden is a hero or a traitor, there is no denying that the former American computer specialist, who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and was a contractor with the National Security Agency (NSA), was one the of most significant people of 2013. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg called Snowden’s release of classified material the most significant leak in U.S. history, and he should know. Snowden revealed the depth of the NSA’s surveillance of ordinary Americans and foreign leaders. He is living in Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum.
Bitcoin phenomena: Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer payment system and digital currency introduced in 2009 according to Wikipedia. In 2013 it exploded on the scene as a unit of currency causing controversy with numerous central banks. It is a story without an end and something to tab in 2014.