By David Sirota
There was news Sunday afternoon of a congressional deal to bailout Wall Street fat cats with $700 billion of taxpayer cash (you can read the draft legislation here). Though the deal negotiated between congressional leaders and the White House is better than what Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson originally proposed early last week, it remains an insulting atrocity, having omitted even basic aid to homeowners, bankruptcy reforms and any modicum of future financial industry regulation. Now, the New York Times reports that the Democratic leadership may not have the votes to pass this bailout. So without further ado, here are the top 5 reasons (in no order) why every single member of Congress -- Democrat and Republican -- should vote this sucker down. Please feel free to copy and paste this post into an email to your congressperson. They are deciding right now -- let them hear your voice.
1.This Bailout's Inherent Fiscal Insanity Could Make Problem Worse
When an individual consumer uses a new credit card to pay off astounding debt from an old credit card, it's akin to check kiting, which is is illegal. Apparently, though, when the government does it, it's billed as Serious Public Policy. Because that's what this supposedly prudent bailout bill would do: Force taxpayers to borrow $700 billion from foreign banks to pay off the bad debt of Wall Street banks. During a crisis that is aimed at preventing interest rates from skyrocketing, nobody has been able to explain how adding almost a trillion dollars to the interest rate-exacerbating national debt would do anything other than undermine the plan's underlying objective. Worse, the U.S. Treasury Department itself admits that the $700 billion number is "not based on any particular data point" -- that is, they created it out of thin air because "We just wanted to choose a really large number." Slapping that amount of money onto the national credit card when our government can't even justify the amount is beyond absurd -- it is insane.
It didn't have to be this way, of course. As I noted in my newspaper column this week, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed a temporary tax on millionaires to finance part of this bailout. Similarly, Blue Dog Democrats proposed a future tax on financial firms if and when taxpayers lose cash on the deal. These proposals were discarded in favor of language asking the government to "submit a plan to Congress on how to recoup any losses," according to the Associated Press. Not only is that language toothless, but it opens up the possibility of a plan being submitted that says we should raise middle-class taxes or slash middle-class social programs to pay for Wall Street's misbehavior.
2. Experts on both the left and right say this bailout could make things worse
Primum non nocere is the latin phrase for "first do no harm" -- the priority principle for any EMT working on a sick patient. It should be the same priority for Congress at this moment -- and a growing group of esteemed experts on both the Right and Left are insisting that this bailout bill could make things worse. Here's a review:
- The Washington Post reported on Friday, almost 200 academic economists "have signed a petition organized by a University of Chicago professor objecting to the plan on the grounds that it could create perverse incentives, that it is too vague and that its long-run effects are unclear."
- NYU's Nouriel Roubini, the visionary who had been predicting this meltdown, says "The Treasury plan (even in its current version agreed with Congress) is very poorly conceived and does not contain many of the key elements of a sound and efficient and fair rescue plan."
- Harvard's Ken Rogoff, a Former Federal Rerserve and IMF official, insists that the prospect of this bailout is, unto itself, taking a manageable problem and making it into a more intense crisis. He says that credit is frozen primarily because banks want to avoid dealing with other banks that might drive a hard bargain, and instead would rather wait for free money from the government. Without the prospect of that free money, Rogoff suggests that credit would probably begin moving again, if slowly.
- Dean Baker of the Center on Economic and Policy Research says that spending so much cash so quickly on such a poorly conceived plan could have the effect of making it impossible to fund economic stimulus that is the real way out of this mess. "Suppose the Paulson plan goes through," he writes. "It is virtually certain that the economy will weaken further and the number of foreclosures and people without jobs will continue to rise. This is the fallout from a collapsing housing bubble...When families respond to their loss of home equity by cutting back their consumption it will deepen the recession. In this context it might prove very important to have the resources needed to provide a substantial stimulus. [and] there is no doubt that this bailout will make further stimulus much more difficult to sell politically."
Meanwhile, it's not even close to clear that this is a problem that requires such an enormous response. As mentioned above, the Treasury Department admits it has absolutely no factual basis for requesting $700 billion -- an amount equivalent to about 5 percent of our entire economy. Additionally, the Washington Post reports that "Banks throughout the United States carried on with the business of making loans yesterday even as federal officials warned again that their industry is on the verge of collapse, suggesting that the overheated language on Capitol Hill may not reflect the reality on many Main Streets." Indeed, "many smaller banks said they were actually benefiting from the problems on Wall Street" and "even some of the nation's largest banks, which have pushed hard for a federal bailout, deny that the current situation is forcing them to reduce lending."
The questions, then, are simple: In the face of this bipartisan opposition from objective experts, why should a lawmaker instead believe the same Bush officials who helped create this crisis with their deregulation, the same Bush officials who just months ago said everything was AOK? Shouldn't there be almost complete unanimity among both objective and partisan observers before spending 5 percent of our entire economy after just one harried week of White House demands? Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. It's time, as The Who said, that we "don't get fooled again."