The more details emerge, the clearer it becomes that Washington’s handling of the Wall Street bailout is not merely incompetent. It is borderline criminal.
In a moment of high panic in late September, the US Treasury unilaterally pushed through a radical change in how bank mergers are taxed–a change long sought by the industry. Despite the fact that this move will deprive the government of as much as $140 billion in tax revenue, lawmakers found out only after the fact. According to the Washington Post, more than a dozen tax attorneys agree that “Treasury had no authority to issue the [tax change] notice.”
Of equally dubious legality are the equity deals Treasury has negotiated with many of the country’s banks. According to Congressman Barney Frank, one of the architects of the legislation that enables the deals, “Any use of these funds for any purpose other than lending–for bonuses, for severance pay, for dividends, for acquisitions of other institutions, etc.–is a violation of the act.” Yet this is exactly how the funds are being used.
Then there is the nearly $2 trillion the Federal Reserve has handed out in emergency loans. Incredibly, the Fed will not reveal which corporations have received these loans or what it has accepted as collateral. Bloomberg News believes that this secrecy violates the law and has filed a federal suit demanding full disclosure.
Despite all of this potential lawlessness, the Democrats are either openly defending the administration or refusing to intervene. “There is only one president at a time,” we hear from Barack Obama. That’s true. But every sweetheart deal the lame-duck Bush administration makes threatens to hobble Obama’s ability to make good on his promise of change. To cite just one example, that $140 billion in missing tax revenue is almost the same sum as Obama’s renewable energy program. Obama owes it to the people who elected him to call this what it is: an attempt to undermine the electoral process by stealth.
Yes, there is only one president at a time, but that president needed the support of powerful Democrats, including Obama, to get the bailout passed. Now that it is clear that the Bush administration is violating the terms to which both parties agreed, the Democrats have not just the right but a grave responsibility to intervene forcefully.
I suspect that the real reason the Democrats are so far failing to act has less to do with presidential protocol than with fear: fear that the stock market, which has the temperament of an overindulged 2-year-old, will throw one of its world-shaking tantrums. Disclosing the truth about who is receiving federal loans, we are told, could cause the cranky market to bet against those banks. Question the legality of equity deals and the same thing will happen. Challenge the $140 billion tax giveaway and mergers could fall through. “None of us wants to be blamed for ruining these mergers and creating a new Great Depression,” explained one unnamed Congressional aide.