Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wants to expand executive authority so that presidents can act as swiftly in times of financial crisis as they are able to do in event of serious threats to national security.
The only difference, of course, is that foreign attackers do not typically ask to be bailed out of losses with taxpayer money.
In his new book, Stress Test, Geithner recalls the Obama administration's effort to repair the nation's financial system in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, defending the decision to bailout Wall Street.
He also stresses that federal agencies like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which provides deposit insurance for banks, ought to be able to do more in times of crisis. A series of Wall Street reforms enacted after the recession stripped some of the government's authority to offer such increased public insurance.
"The president is entrusted with extraordinary powers to protect the country from threats to our national security," Geithner writes in the memoir. "These powers come with carefully designed constraints, but they allow the president to act quickly in extremis. Congress should give the president and the financial first responders the powers necessary to protect the country from the devastation of financial crises."
The suggestion raises the question of how one would define a crisis, but regardless, Congress is unlikely to hand off more of its powers to the executive, especially under President Barack Obama's tenure, which many Republicans already believe is a stalking dictatorship.
But Congress may at least be enticed by the idea, as bailing out Wall Street was a thankless political task, even as it was greeted with gratitude from banks. Ceding the authority to the White House would allow Congress to demagogue the issue while still allowing a future administration to rescue busted banks. It would fit with a pattern in the American political system, where the least popular policies are implemented by the least accountable levers of government -- such as the Supreme Court's repeal of most campaign finance laws.
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