U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., submitted the following remarks upon casting a vote on the Senate economic bailout plan:
This is an enormous package - $700 billion. That ain't chicken feed! That's 17 times what we spend annually on health care for our nation's veterans. That's 14 times what we spend annually on highways and mass transportation. That's more than the annual defense budget, which supplies our troops and fuels our planes and naval vessels around the globe. That's more than the total amount the Federal government will spend on homeland security over the next 17 years. And that number actually hides the real potential cost, because the Treasury Secretary would be authorized to buy and sell an unlimited amount of these troubled assets in the next two years.
It is an enormous amount of money. And it involves granting an enormous amount of authority to the Secretary of the Treasury. I believe many Americans, and that includes this Senator, would not pretend to understand all of the nuances of the financial mess that we are told is creeping into our Main Street communities and threatens to jeopardize the security of millions of Americans. But we all understand that, when working families were suffering because of the economic policies of these past eight years, nobody in the Treasury Department or the Federal Reserve told us about the dangerous course we were on. When the Senate tried to pass an economic stimulus bill just last week, which included unemployment benefits and financial assistance for these same working families struggling with rising energy and food prices, those efforts were met with filibusters and fierce opposition from the White House that now wants a bailout of Wall Street. Apparently Wall Street institutions are too big and too important to be allowed to fail, but the same isn't true when it comes to working families.
West Virginia has always had its share of economic troubles. But, it has been further battered by the Bush Administration's feckless fiscal policies. The annual budget cuts imposed by the Bush Administration and its allies in the Congress have punished the people of my state and many other states. Everything from health care, to law enforcement, to programs for children have been put on the chopping block.
I grew up in the Great Depression. That economic collapse followed a decade of business prosperity. Three Republican administrations had pursued policies that brought the country to the brink of economic ruin. Those Administrations pushed to get the government off the backs of business, a "return to normalcy," President Harding called it. They had pushed through enormous tax cuts, including the largest tax cut in American history to that point. All the while, proclaiming the virtues of big business: "The business of America, is business," thundered President Coolidge.
For the past eight years, we have again heard the same slogans reflecting the same philosophy, and seen another Republican administration follow the same reckless path. Unleash capitalism, has been the cry for the past eight years. Get the government off our backs. The government is the problem, not the solution. We have heard it all before.
Well, the financial oversight agencies have had an eight year holiday. For eight years, Wall Street has run wild, as they loaned money they did not have, to people who could not afford these loans, to buy houses and other real estate that were enormously over-priced. Now, faced with financial troubles, the Wall Street barons look to the very government that they had been resisting to save them to the tune of $700 billion. As the fear spreads and confidence erodes now the turmoil on Wall Street threatens to wash over Main Street as banks refuse credit, old loans default, and investments that fund the pensions of the average American plummet in value.
Republicans espouse the theory of trickle down economics - - that the benefits of economic growth will trickle down to the working family. What hogwash! This crisis proves that the only thing that trickles down to the working family is the losses that come from Wall Street run wild. I fear the enormity of the potential crisis that looms over our entire economy. The scope and the cost of the bill speak to the severity of the challenge that our financial leaders believe our country is confronting. This is legislation I do not want to support, yet I fear the consequences of its failure in this body. I fear opposing this legislation, because I fear even more what might happen to our states, our workers, their pensions, and their jobs if this turmoil on Wall Street spreads further into our economy.
I am somewhat comforted by the improvements Congress has made in an otherwise total giveaway of funds and authority to the Executive Branch.
The EESA bill is 113 pages compared to the three-page proposal requested by the Administration. Much of the new language includes checks on the new authority:
1. Sunsets the legislation on December 31, 2009 - 15 months from now - but the Treasury may extend the program until two years after the date of enactment;
2. Releases $700 billion to the Treasury in parts - the first $250 billion is available immediately, the next $100 billion is available after presidential certification, and the next $350 billion is available unless a Joint Resolution of Disapproval (subject to expedited procedures) is passed within 15 days of the Treasury request;
3. Includes the Appropriations Committees in the list of Congressional Committees that will receive regular reports;
4. Creates a new Congressional Oversight Panel in the Legislative Branch, which would be required to report to the Congress 30 days after the Treasury Secretary first exercises his authorities and every 30 days thereafter. The members of the Panel would be appointed by the House Speaker, the Senate Majority Leader, the House and Senate Minority Leaders;
5. Requires the Comptroller General to report to the Congress every 60 days;
6. Creates a Special Inspector General, which would be subject to presidential appointment and Senate confirmation, and would be required to report to the Congress within 60 days of confirmation and quarterly thereafter;
7. Creates a Financial Stability Oversight Board in the Executive Branch. The Board would consist of the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Treasury Secretary, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (the overseer for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), and would be required to report to the Congress quarterly. In addition, 60 days after the Treasury Secretary first exercises his authorities and every month thereafter, and seven days after the purchasing authority reaches each $50 billion tranche, the Secretary would be required to report to the Congress;
8. Within two days of the Secretary exercising his authority under the Act, or within 45 days of enactment, the Secretary would be required to publish program guidelines explaining how troubled assets would be selected, priced, and purchased.
I believe that our duty is clear. We must pass this legislation or further destabilize our country's economic situation. But after we pass it, if we do, we must then go after all of those who so cavalierly put the rest of us at such incredible risk.