Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Not Buying It

Congress voices skepticism over Paulson’s bailout plan.

The Bush administration and Congressional leaders moved closer to agreement on a historic $700 billion bailout for financial firms on Monday, including tight oversight of the program and new efforts to help homeowners at risk of foreclosure.

But lawmakers in both parties voiced anger over the steep cost and even skepticism about the plan’s chances of success.


As heated debate began on Capitol Hill, Congress and the administration remained at odds over the demands of some lawmakers, including limits on the pay of top executives whose firms seek help, and new authority to allow bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage payments for borrowers facing foreclosure.

Congressional leaders and Treasury officials also said they were close to an agreement over a proposal by some Democrats in which taxpayers could receive an ownership stake, in the form of warrants to buy stock, from firms seeking to sell distressed debt.

Lawmakers want to require an equity stake, while the administration wants flexibility on that matter, a Treasury official said.

Despite the progress, the rancor in Congress ratcheted up the pressure on Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, the architects of the proposal to let financial institutions, including some foreign firms, pass their most distressed assets to the United States Treasury.


President Bush urged Congress on Monday to act fast. “Americans are watching to see if Democrats and Republicans, the Congress and the White House, can come together to solve this problem with the urgency it warrants,” he said in a statement. “The whole world is watching to see if we can act quickly to shore up our markets.”

The majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, said Democrats were prepared to do so. “Democrats in the Senate aren’t going to drag our feet,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor. “We’ll respond with the urgency of action that this situation demands, but after eight years of fiscal dereliction of duty, it’s time for accountability.”

“Should we resolve the issue in one day?” he asked. “I think not.”

Republican leaders who support the administration’s plan warned the Democrats on Monday to exercise restraint and not slow the bailout package, even as they prepared for an aggressive internal campaign to rally Republican support.

That’s because they can read polls, too, and they know they’re the ones the public blames for the mess. So of course they want this off the front page like yesterday. Failing that, they’re working up a way to blame it on the Democrats.