Taxpayers, Congress Push Back Against Bailout


Richard Moore

Taxpayers, Congress Push Back Against Bailout
Monday 22 September 2008

by: Matt Renner, t r u t h o u t | Report

    Washington, DC – Push back against the massive $700 billion Wall Street bailout proposal has come hard and fast from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

    The bailout plan proposed by the Bush administration would give the Treasury Department and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson – a former Wall Street CEO himself – the power to buy up extremely risky mortgages and other dangerous debt using taxpayer dollars. Because the US government continues to run a deficit, under the plan, the Treasury would have to borrow money to buy this private sector debt – essentially using the taxpayer’s credit card to buy home loans that are currently weighing down Wall Street firms.

    Members of Congress point to a severe lack of oversight in the proposed Bush administration plan. Section eight of the draft bailout plan states: “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency,” essentially stripping Congress of its responsibility to oversee the how these tax dollars could be spent.

    Constituents have been blowing up the phone lines on Capitol Hill, calling House of Representatives members, Republicans and Democrats, objecting to the no-strings-attached bailout, and the representatives have responded. Democrats are currently crafting various proposals to help prop up Wall Street firms which have gotten themselves into trouble, but without simply throwing away taxpayer money and without letting CEOs of the affected firms off the hook with fat retirement packages.

    Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), spoke out against a bailout, calling the current proposal “cash for trash,” and proposing a distribution of the assets back to the taxpayers.

    “Since the bailout will cost each and every American about $2,300, tomorrow I will offer legislation to create a United States Mutual Trust Fund, which will take control of $700 billion in stock assets, at market value and not higher, convert those assets to shares, and distribute $2,300 worth of shares to new individual savings accounts in the name of each and every American,” Kucinich said in a statement.

    “The Wall Street financial disaster is an opportunity to create a genuine ownership society. If Congress invests $700 billion in the market, then the American people must get something of real value for their investment,” Kucinich said.

    “The seven and a half year march toward deregulation and unfettered greed in our financial markets has exacted a heavy toll on American taxpayers,” Representative Jackie Speier (D-California) said in a statement, adding, “I am not comfortable allowing the same Wall Street insiders and manipulators who got us into this mess to get a free pass. At the very least, the Government Accountability Office should be camped out at Treasury and Congress must be continually updated on the status of the bailout.” Speier sits on both the House Financial Services and Oversight and Government Reform Committees. She said she would be watching the situation closely.

    Conservative Republican Representative Mike Pence of Indiana was the first to loudly oppose the bailout plan from within the Republican Party.

    “The Administration’s request amounts to the largest corporate bailout in American history. Congress should act, but should act in a way that protects the integrity of our free market and protects the American taxpayer from more debt and higher taxes,” Pence said in a statement Saturday.

    Pence makes his argument based on his belief in the Republican mantra of “free market” economics. “To have the freedom to succeed, we must preserve the freedom to fail. Any solution to our present crisis must preserve our essential economic freedom,” Pence said.

    Democrats have begun to craft a counterproposal, the details of which are not yet set at the time of this publication. Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has been pushing for a plan that includes more oversight and possibly direct financial help to indebted homeowners as well as to Wall Street.

    Frank would also like to see compensation limited for Wall Street executives who have created the current situation.

    “The notion that while they are getting this help from the federal government we can’t tell them not to have golden parachutes, not to pay millions to some of the very people who made bad decisions, as a retirement gift, is unacceptable to us,” Frank said to CNN.

    CNBC is reporting that Frank and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) are negotiating with the Bush administration. According to Frank, administration officials have agreed to take control of pieces of the companies that they are bailing out – equity stakes in the companies – equal to the amount of taxpayer money invested.

    According to CNBC, the administration has agreed to creation of a Congressional oversight board of some kind, but details have not yet been released.

    However, according to Frank, limiting pay for business executives is a key sticking point for the administration.

    The rush to bail out financial institutions and the willingness to defend executive compensation comes as no surprise to campaign finance experts. Massie Ritsch, communications director for the money in politics watchdog group The Center for Responsive Politics, examines the effect of campaign contributions to politicians in Washington.

    “Wall Street is one of the biggest campaign givers in American politics. When you combine donations from the finance, insurance and real estate sectors [all of which stand to gain from the bailout], they become the largest contributor, splitting roughly $311 million evenly between Republicans and Democrats,” Ritsch said.

Matt Renner is an editor and Washington reporter for Truthout.