This article originally appeared at The Big Money.
Yes, it takes a breathtaking level of chutzpah for Hank Paulson to bar as "punitive" any caps on Wall Street compensation or clawbacks of ill-gotten gains on the verge of an epic federal bailout. But Democrats would be foolish to fixate on payback when a bigger prize is at hand. They should tell Hank Paulson it's fine. Let the high rollers keep the loot they made wrecking the economy. We'll flog no fat cats in the public square. All is forgiven! In exchange, though, Mr. Secretary, we just want one thing: boost your $700 billion rescue to $800 billion and enact universal health coverage this week, too.
Welcome to the logic of the next American capitalism. Once upon a time -- about a week ago, actually -- insuring the uninsured was a pipe dream. Sure, Barack Obama had to talk about it to keep the lefties happy. But how could America stomach such a massive government intervention? Just thinking about it made one swoon from the deadly vapors of socialism. Plus, even if it was a good idea, how could a deficit-ridden nation begin to pay for such a thing?
How quaint such quibbles seem today! Now that we've socialized large chunks of the mortgage, banking and insurance industries -- with auto and airlines not far behind -- universal health coverage is among the most conservative initiatives left for America to pursue. And unlike finance -- where market principles plainly lead to disaster -- in health care, Democrats can throw sulky conservative ideologues a bone. Just give the uninsured vouchers with which they can buy decent coverage from among competing private health plans. Toss in a couple of rules to assure that insurers can't discriminate against the sick (a far lighter federal hand than Republicans will shortly be proposing for tomorrow's banks). Presto! We have "market-friendly" universal health coverage.
Whaddya say, Hank? Amortized over thirty years -- like a mortgage, say -- the extra ten percent or so added to your rescue package is peanuts. This deal lends the perfect patina of justice to a scheme that would otherwise be pure socialism for the rich. It can bring the bipartisan spirit we need to muscle through this crisis together. Best of all, it lets fallen financiers sleep better in the knowledge that their plunder ultimately served a cause greater than self. Or as they say on Wall Street nowadays: "Country first!"
Matt Miller is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. His new book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, will be published by Times Books in January.