This afternoon, as Barack Obama and John McCain were reportedly sitting at different ends of a White House conference table, talking (arguing? posturing?) with President Bush about the economic bailout, Sen. Herb Kohl was scheduled to address the Senate on the same issue.
Here's the advance text of what Kohl said:
Today we are facing a historic economic crisis. We have been told by the Secretary of Treasury and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve that we stand on the edge of a financial cliff – and we are looking down on a potential disaster that this country hasn’t seen since the Great Depression. We have seen historic financial firms and banks with household names swept away in a matter of weeks. These massive changes have left the American people confused, angry, and worried.
In the wake of this chaos on Wall Street the Administration has come to Congress with a plan that they believe will calm the storm. They came to us with few details – only three pages. They told us we need to move immediately, that delay was dangerous. We were told that oversight of the bailout would be a burden and just slow everything down. We were told to hand over the money and get out of the way."We were told
to hand over the money
and get out of the way."
The Administration asked the American people for a $700 billion dollar blank check. Wall Street and the Administration asked hard working Wisconsinites to bail them out, to buy assets that no one wants, to go further into debt to China so that banks and financial institutions can avoid bankruptcy. My constituents, the people of Wisconsin cannot understand how we got to this point and why they should foot the bill. They are furious – and I don’t blame them.
I share their anger. As a former businessman I am shocked and appalled that the supposed best and brightest on Wall Street allowed their companies to purchase dangerous assets that they didn’t understand. That these people gambled with the money of millions of Americans, and now they expect those same Americans to come to the rescue.
These supposed titans of Wall Street owe the American people an explanation. We are being asked for the staggering sum of $700 billion, but not one CEO has come to Capitol Hill to apologize for their part in creating this mess. And to add insult to injury, when Congress tried to limit CEO compensation for firms who would benefit from the plan the Administration resisted. They had the nerve to ask my constituents - who make about $48,000 per household - for money while they keep their multi-million dollar salaries.
I think these CEO’s need to come before Congress and explain how we got in this mess – and explain their role. I know they are not solely to blame. Regulators were asleep at the switch, the Administration believed in letting markets run wild, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over extended themselves and Congress failed to do adequate oversight. But as a businessman who firmly believes in markets I am stunned that Wall Street engaged in the behavior that led us to this point.
I hope that Congress will call some of these CEO’s who were most involved in this meltdown to testify. The American people want to hear from them. I think they owe us all an apology. They should also explain what they plan to do in the future to make sure we never end up in this kind of crisis again. They should tell us what kind of regulations they think are necessary to avoid another crisis. It is the least they can do in exchange for the risks the American people are about to absorb on their behalf.
We have yet to see the details of the final bailout package. I am reserving judgment. I understand the delicate situation we are in, and the risks we face, but I am wary of being rushed into a decision. I would prefer a solution that does not provide the $700 billion all at once but provides part of it now and more later if necessary. We can reconvene Congress and raise the amount at any time with short notice – so I don’t see the necessity of providing everything up front. Any bailout plan needs rigorous oversight, and it should also give the taxpayers a chance to share in any profits that result.
This is not our money we are handing to Secretary Paulson – it is the taxpayers’. I never forget who I am working for - and the people I serve are furious that they are being asked to give $700 billion to the very investors who have made such bad decisions. No one wants to plunge the economy into chaos but we need to make sure we take our time and get this right – because if we don’t we will be back here again and the stakes could be even higher.
Meanwhile, the WISC-TV poll confirmed Kohl's read about Wisconsinites opposed to the bailout. Six-hundred likely voters were polled between Sept. 22 and Sept. 23 on a variety of issues. Here are the results that pertain to the economic bailout:
"As you may know, the federal government has announced that it will be intervening in order to protect several major financial institutions in trouble because of high-risk mortgages that failed. Taxpayer money will be used, with the price tag estimated to total at least $500 billion. We'd like to ask you a few questions about the government's actions."
QUESTION: Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the government's action?
32% approve; 61% disapprove; 7% not sureQUESTION: Should taxpayer money be used to protect private companies from financial losses?
15% yes; 77% no; 8% not sureThere was no appreciable difference between Republican and Democratic respondents.
The complete poll is HERE.