THE BLOG
12/19/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Botching the Bailout

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium MediaWire Blogger

The Bush administration is squandering hundreds of billions of dollars on incompetence again.

In a House Domestic Policy Subcommittee hearing on Friday, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, took Interim Assistant Treasury Secretary for Financial Stability Neel Kashkari (read: bailout chief) to task over the Treasury's decision to spend every cent of the first $350 billion in bailout funds buying up preferred stock in Wall Street icons and other banks, while allowing troubled borrowers to fend for themselves.

Kashkari did his best to deflect the outrage, but his task would have been easier had the Treasury's position been defensible. In a Senate Banking Committee hearing the day before, both consumer-protection advocates and banking executives endorsed an anti-foreclosure initiative devised by FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair that would create strong incentives for the private sector to cut borrowers some slack. Despite the plan's broad appeal, both Paulson and Kashkari refused to devote any Treasury funds to the program, making the bailout chief sound like, well, a chump, when he insisted that Treasury is doing everything in its power to keep people in their homes.

The whole thing is beginning to look a little too much like Iraq. Bush administration officials steamroll both chambers of Congress with warnings of a dire emergency and are rewarded for their efforts with unprecedented authority and funding. Shortly afterwards, it becomes clear that the initiative has been squandered on meaningless giveaways to huge corporations without any corresponding social benefits. Naomi Klein of The Nation details the corruption parallels in an illuminating piece for Rolling Stone.

Laissez-faire lunacy

Most depressing is the bailout's complete impotence with regard to providing broader economic support. Paulson and Kashkari have succeeded in keeping the U.S. financial sector afloat for the time being, but despite an enormous injection of taxpayer funds, banks are not lending money out into the broader economy. One part of the problem is the fact that President Bush & Co. took years to acknowledge that the country was in fact facing disaster (remember Paulson's 2007 talking point that the subprime mortgage crisis was "contained"?). Now that the Treasury is finally taking action, it is doing so in an environment where there simply are not many good loans to be made. The other roadblock is Paulson's refusal to require banks who accept public money to put it to use for the public good, as Joshua Holland explains for Alternet.

That desperate attempt to adhere to some kind of free-market principle--not forcing companies to do anything with billions of dollars allocated to partially nationalize them--was on display Friday at a speech Bush gave in New York. It sounds like a sick joke. After demanding $700 billion to save Wall Street, Bush is still warning against the evils of government intervention, claiming that free-market systems have a monopoly on "social justice and human dignity."

"The greater threat to economic prosperity is not too little government involvement in the market," he said. "It is too much government involvement in the market."

Matthew Rothschild skewers this absurdity over at The Progressive.

"You can't have social justice and human dignity with mass unemployment, rampant foreclosures, high rates of poverty and food insecurity, and a health care system that leaves almost 50 million people uninsured," Rothschild writes.

Bush did make a few nods to sanity during his speech, arguing that markets need to be "more transparent," but the claim was a little perplexing amid reports that the Federal Reserve is refusing to disclose who it is granting about $2 trillion in emergency loans.

"Where is the ridicule?" Dean Baker asks in a blog for the American Prospect, arguing that Paulson and Bernanke are looking more like "crony capitalists" every day.

Going green, going global

Bush's speech was designed to frame the debate surrounding the meeting of leaders from the world's 20 largest economies to address problems in the global financial architecture. Fortunately, President Bush does not have final authority to sign an agreement for the U.S., that task will be left to Barack Obama in April of next year. Over at oneworld.net, Gary Gardner and Michael Renner note the opportunity not just for a New Deal to refashion the U.S. economy, but to ink a Green Deal that does away with global dependence on fossil fuels and provides for a fairer distribution of wealth across the globe.

At the moment, U.S. economic policy remains dominated by how to handle the bailout. How Democrats seek to proceed with lashing Detroit automakers to that $700 billion debacle will say a great deal about the majority party's governing intentions heading into the next Congress.

"It's time to think big," Andrew Leonard writes for Salon.com. "A Manhattan Project-scale plan to move the U.S. into an energy-sustainable future should start with a complete restructuring of the automotive industry," according to Leonard.

The sagas of the financial and automobile industries have more in common than meets the eye. Both have lobbied heavily against new regulations for decades, and the lax oversight has left both in dire straits. While conservatives are quick to point to labor union contracts that make workforces at GM, Ford and Chrysler pricier than for foreign manufacturers, the fact is that the Big Three have drastically lost market share in recent years by failing to make cars people actually want to buy. In a video produced for American News Project, Garland McLaurin details how Detroit spent millions lobbying Congress against raising fuel economy standards while failing to develop cars that achieve high gas mileage.

Millions of people could be out of a job if the Big Three go under, but if Democrats hurl money at the companies with no strings attached, they're no better than the current administration's set of bailouteers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit Economy.NewsLadder.net for a complete list of articles on the economy. And for the best progressive reporting on critical immigration and healthcare issues, check out Immigration.NewsLadder.net and Healthcare.NewsLadder.net.

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