As you know, the Bush administration sent Congress a request last Saturday for $700 billion to bail out the financial industry as we face the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Under the proposal, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson would have sweeping powers, enabling him to acquire up to $700 billion in home and commercial mortgages over the next two years. These mortgage-related assets, or as columnist Sebastian Mallaby explains it, “dud loans from banks that aren’t actually insolvent” are said to include derivatives and other financial instruments, but the broad phrase would also authorize the government to buy and sell commercial real estate. Treasury would manage the assets, including revenues and portfolio risks. In theory, the securities or “toxic instruments” will eventually be sold and taxpayers would be partially reimbursed.
To allow for the bailout, the U.S. government’s debt limit would need to rise to $11.3 trillion from $10.6 trillion. Under the proposal, Treasury could hire asset managers to handle the debt purchases, which could include residential or commercial mortgages issued on or before Sept. 17, 2008. The authority to purchase would end two years from the date of enactment, but authority to hold the assets would continue. Treasury said it planned to establish the price of the securities it buys through market mechanisms.
The magnitude of the economic situation we are in cannot be overstated. Failure to act in a responsible manner risks a global recession. What is at stake now is the entire global financial system that has underpinned our economy over the past two decades. If we fail, the cost will be slower economic growth around the world, and especially in the U.S., over the next decade and perhaps longer.
In my view, the President’s bailout plan lacks accountability and oversight-a prescription shifting risk from Wall Street to taxpayers who are being asked to bear the burden of recklessness that has characterized the anti-regulatory zeal pervading Washington for too long. There is no question that Congress must act. But how we respond however is the real question.
For the past several months we’ve been lurching from crisis to crisis, a strategy that cannot persist. Absent a fix-a good fix-the retirement savings of millions and millions of Americans will be in jeopardy, and access to credit-to purchase a home, buy a car, finance a business-will be imperiled. Thus, hard as it will be to resist the immense pressures from the White House to act immediately and without questions or due diligence, I believe Congress needs to take whatever time necessary to get the bailout right.
This week hearings are being held in both the House and Senate on the proposal. Bipartisan deliberations are ongoing and amendments are being discussed. It’s likely we’ve got one chance to get this right; therefore we must lay out all the facts before we make a decision that could prove whether our economy rebounds or collapses under weight of Wall Street’s bad debt.