|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Republican leaders in Congress are warning Democrats not to load up the Treasury Department’s emergency bailout bill with help for homeowners or others facing economic hardship — all while avoiding a direct endorsement of the bill themselves.
“Efforts to exploit this crisis for political leverage or partisan quid pro quo will only delay the economic stability that families, seniors and small businesses deserve,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement issued Saturday afternoon. “Going forward, I hope we all can agree that we should keep any legislation as straightforward as possible while doing everything we can to protect American taxpayers.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is up for reelection in November, said the Treasury’s $700 billion bailout plan must not become a vehicle for "partisan plans and pet projects" if it is to receive congressional approval next week.
As I posted earlier today, it seems all too likely that a “fair price” for mortgage-related assets will still leave much of the financial sector in trouble. And there’s nothing at all in the draft that says what happens next; although I do notice that there’s nothing in the plan requiring Treasury to pay a fair market price. So is the plan to pay premium prices to the most troubled institutions? Or is the hope that restoring liquidity will magically make the problem go away?
Here’s the thing: historically, financial system rescues have involved seizing the troubled institutions and guaranteeing their debts; only after that did the government try to repackage and sell their assets. The feds took over S&Ls first, protecting their depositors, then transferred their bad assets to the RTC. The Swedes took over troubled banks, again protecting their depositors, before transferring their assets to their equivalent institutions.
The Treasury plan, by contrast, looks like an attempt to restore confidence in the financial system — that is, convince creditors of troubled institutions that everything’s OK — simply by buying assets off these institutions. This will only work if the prices Treasury pays are much higher than current market prices; that, in turn, can only be true either if this is mainly a liquidity problem — which seems doubtful — or if Treasury is going to be paying a huge premium, in effect throwing taxpayers’ money at the financial world.
And there’s no quid pro quo here — nothing that gives taxpayers a stake in the upside, nothing that ensures that the money is used to stabilize the system rather than reward the undeserving.