After days of silence from the White House, President Bush emerged last night to tell a national television audience that his request for a $700 billion blank check for bankers was dead. Instead, the president capitulated on some of the key points that Democrats, labor and progressive groups have been demanding in any federal financial bailout, including the need for oversight, limits on executive compensation and protection for the taxpayers who will be footing the bill.
The threat to Wall Street clearly got the president's attention. That's great. But it's hard not to be amazed at the threat to working Americans that he's ignored all year long. After all, we've lost more than 605,000 jobs this year, while Bush echoed John McCain that the economy was fundamentally strong. 9,800 people lose their homes to foreclosure every day, while Bush and McCain opposed federal assistance. 45 million Americans go without health insurance, while Bush and McCain ignore the country's demand for quality, affordable health care for all.
They insist they oppose "big government" -- except when their friends on Wall Street ask for help! The struggles of America's working families don't cut it for them. Nope. Problems on Main Street are to be ignored. However, led by President Bush and his anti-regulation, pro-market, anti-government, free-market-cheering corporate cohorts, the federal government is swiftly coming to the rescue of the financial markets.
The mess on Wall Street does need an urgent fix and it is an appropriate role for government. It's also the government's role to help prevent these kinds of crises in the first place, and to make sure that this week's solution tackles the whole problem, because the problem is bigger than Wall Street.
But last night, Bush agreed to several of the common-sense proposals given by those who want to resolve the crisis but ensure that tax dollars won't be given without strings attached. However, the president continues to ignore the needs of American workers laid off this year, state and local governments that are reeling under the failed Bush economy, and families who are losing their homes and savings while Bush has been in charge.
For working families, the Bush message is clear: "You're on your own." So too are state governments, who have to meet their responsibilities to their citizens no matter what the federal government does. Not only is that approach not right, it also won't work.
As Bush drove the national economy over the cliff, state and local governments have been put into an ever-tightening vice grip. Their budgets are bursting at the seams while their cash flow is drying up.
This creates another real crisis -- just when citizens' needs are greatest -- our state and local governments are least able to provide that assistance. But throughout the last year, George Bush and John McCain have turned a blind eye to those who are struggling to keep their homes, their health care and their jobs during this economic downturn. Back then they were talking about "market correction." Only now are they talking about government intervention.
While the federal government comes to the aid of Wall Street, it also needs to help the families on Main Street. States need immediate assistance to prevent cuts in health care and vital services. They need more resources to create jobs and complete infrastructure repairs. They need funds to help families maintain a basic standard of living. Federal assistance for programs such as Food Stamps and Medicaid are especially important right now. While we must restore accountability and stability to our nation's financial institutions, we also can't turn our back on the urgent needs of millions of hard-working Americans who struggle to pay the bills, feed their children and seek health care if they fall ill.
This is America -- we know how to take on tough challenges. And we can do more than one thing at a time. We have to rescue the economy and our state governments and the working families who depend on them.
There are tough choices to be made and Congress should make them. They should insist on fairness for all rather than a bailout for the wealthy few. They should help our state governments along with the Wall Street firms. They should insist on a bailout that's accountable, transparent and prevents these problems in the future. Congress should remember that the goal here is not to bail out Wall Street but to rebuild the economy and rebuild America's middle class.