PASS THE EFFIN BILL….You would think that the imminent collapse of our financial system, much like a firing squad, would concentrate our collective minds wonderfully. You would be wrong. Ten days after the credit markets nearly seized up completely, nine days after Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke finally decided to press the big red financial panic button and propose a systemic bailout plan to replace a year’s worth of fingers in the dike, we’re pretty much back where we started. Washington Mutual has gone bust. Wachovia is in trouble. Over in Europe, Bradford & Bingley has imploded and Fortis is on life support. The TED spread is once again bobbing around at just under 300 basis points. Solidly profitable companies trying to float bonds are having to offer premiums of 300-400 basis points just to find willing buyers.
And what’s happened in the meantime? The good news is that Paulson’s original bailout proposal has been improved. Hooray. The bad news is a little more extensive. John McCain decided that his campaign might benefit from gumming up the negotiations a bit, so he swooped into Washington and did just that. House Republicans, who apparently earned their high school degrees from a rack of gumball machines, decided to hold their breath and stamp their feet unless capital gains taxes were eliminated, a lunatic proposal that has exactly nothing to do with our current problems. A band of Democrats (I can only pray it was a small one), in an apparent effort to prove that idiocy is not confined to one party, decided that this was the right time to insist that all profits from the plan be plowed into housing programs. Profits! You betcha. Meanwhile, outside Congress, every pundit, academic, and blogger in the country seemed determined to prove their manhood by proposing that we ditch the Paulson plan and instead spend our time considering some shiny new idea that they insisted was way more bitchin’ than anything coming from all those other guys.
Sure, why not? We’ve got plenty of time, after all. If a few more banks crumble, no biggie. A couple extra points of unemployment? Whatevs. A global credit contraction at just the time when our economy is teetering into recession anyway? Yawn. It probably won’t affect most of us well-off pundit types anyway. But it’ll sure provide plenty of opportunity for finger pointing later on, and that’s what really counts, isn’t it?
Look: there’s now pretty broad agreement on issues of oversight, CEO compensation, and equity sharing. So how about if we concentrate on that stuff, cut all the extraneous crap, and pass the fucking bill? It’s not like it’ll be carved in stone. We can always take additional swings later if we have to.
Now go read Joe Nocera and Bruce Bartlett.