Danielle Ivory writes:
Five minutes just breezes by. At least this is what I’ve gathered fromwatching the recent House Financial Services hearings on the economiccrisis. It’s super hard to do any serious fact-finding aboutcatastrophic economic decisions in just five minutes. So why bother? Even if you’re a powerful Congressional leader, tasked with oversightand sitting within throwing distance of one of the dudes running thebailout and the whole thing is being broadcast on national television,it’s just easier to use your precious five minutes to pontificategenerically or hurl abuse generically or to embarrass the Hill-mate whomay or may not have said something mean about you to the AssociatedPress.
Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I saw Rep. Alan Grayson(D-FL) take the road less traveled and open a can o’ whoop-ass on ViceChairman of the Federal Reserve, Donald Kohn. If time flies when you’rehaving fun, this five-minute back-and-forth must have dragged onfor-EVER for Kohn. While newbie Grayson, who used to prosecute Iraq warprofiteers and happens to look a bit like an old-timey boxer, punchedaway, Kohn admitted that the Fed’s balance sheet had spent (lent, Imeant, lent!) nearly $2 trillion just since September. But he refusedto divulge who had received the money and how much. This brief rumbleappears to have prompted a full hearing on transparency at the FederalReserve, starring Chairman Ben Bernanke, to be held on February 10. When I asked Grayson about the exchange, he replied simply: “I wanted toknow what was going on with the Fed and the one guy who potentiallycould tell me what was going on was sitting right in front of me.” Fairenough.
The truth is that squeezing financial information out of the FederalReserve Board against their will is a lot like trying to squeeze blood out ofa turnip (or turnip juice out of a turnip–no easy task, though thehealth benefits are apparently far-reaching). The TARP Program’sbuilt-in oversight mechanisms have been criticized, but at least it hasbuilt-in oversight mechanisms–namely, the Government AccountabilityOffice, Elizabeth Warren’s Congressional Oversight Panel, theself-reflective Financial Stability Oversight Board, and now,apparently, an independent bailout board. On the other hand, the onlybody with any authority over the Federal Reserve is Congress, and theyusually try to keep their distance to avoid political poisoning.