Obama & Senate Have Caved to Wall Street; The House Is Our Last Hope to Stop a $350 Billion Handout

The veto is the legislative equivalent of a nuclear warhead -- a rarely used instrument of devastating force that singularly vaporizes the votes of 535 elected representatives. So when a president-elect issues a veto threat before being sworn into office, it sets off a particularly big explosion because it is a deliberate agenda-setting edict about priorities for the next four years.


That's why every American who isn't a financial-industry executive should be nervous.

After President Bush this week asked Congress to release the bank bailout fund's remaining $350 billion, Obama pledged to veto any bill rejecting the request, meaning he is beginning his presidency not by "turn(ing) the page on policies that have put the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street before the hard work and sacrifice of folks on Main Street," as he once pledged. Instead, he is promising a mushroom cloud unless lawmakers let taxpayer cash continue flowing to the biggest of Big Money interests.

Amid paeans to "new politics," we're watching old-school paybacks from a politician who raised more Wall Street dough than any other -- a president-to-be whose inauguration festivities are being underwritten by the very bankers who are benefiting from the bailout largesse. Safely distanced from electoral pressure, Obama has appointed conservative economists to top White House positions; floated a tax cut for banks; and is now trying to preserve corporate welfare that almost exclusively benefits the political donor class.

This isn't much-ballyhooed "change" -- it's money politics by a different name. How do we know? Because neither Obama nor anyone else is genuinely trying to justify the bailout on its merits -- and understandably so. Even the most basic queries prove such merits don't exist.

Has the bailout increased bank lending, as was its stated objective? "Hundreds of billions of dollars have been injected into the marketplace with no demonstrable effects on lending," says a new report by the congressional panel charged with overseeing the money.

Do federal officials have a solid plan to improve the bailout? The report raises alarms about "the shifting explanations of its purposes," noting that the government has "not yet explained its strategy."

Is the cash being spent responsibly? The report says a lack of transparency means the public "still does not know what the banks are doing with taxpayer money."

But the most damning question isn't even being voiced: Is a bank bailout the best way to boost the economy?

Somehow, immediately releasing more bailout funds is being portrayed as a self-evident necessity, even though the New York Times reported this week that "the Treasury says there is no urgent need" for additional money. Somehow, forcing average $40,000-aires to keep giving their tax dollars to Manhattan millionaires is depicted as the only "serious" course of action. Somehow, few ask whether that money could better help the economy by being spent on health care or public infrastructure. Somehow, the burden of proof is on bailout opponents who make these points, not on those who want to cut another check.

This bizarre dynamic is anything but the "pragmatism" Obama rhetorically fetishizes -- and America's anti-bailout majority knows it.

Sure, Obama might believe he's deft enough to seem courageously populist while using his White House to perpetuate kleptocracy. Perhaps he thinks the gravity of a veto threat will, for a second time, trick the nation into reluctantly accepting theft.

Or maybe before attempting more sleight of hand, Obama should take a moment away from studying Lincoln's speeches and Roosevelt's fireside chats and recall the irrefutable sagacity in one of the most (in)famous Bushisms of all.

"There's an old saying in Tennessee," the outgoing president said early in his first term. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me (twice) -- you can't get fooled again."

Copyright 2009 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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Update from David Sirota at OpenLeft: What Today's Bailout Vote Says About the New Senate

The Senate today voted to give Wall Street another $350 billion today. The vote tells us a lot about the new Senate. You can see the full tally here -- and remember, on this vote, a "yes" vote was a vote against releasing the $350 billion bailout tranche.

For instance, both Tom and Mark Udall, D-Colo., who voted against the bailout in the House when running for the Senate, switched their votes to support the bailout. You may recall that Mark Udall said he was against the bailout specifically because it didn't include enough oversight measures, and yet now he's voting for the same bailout that includes no new oversight measures. This suggests that the Udalls (like lots of political aristocracy) have absolutely no principles -- that, in fact, they are the worst stereotype of politicians: The kind of people who go populist when facing election, and then go corporatist when they're comfortably insulated in Washington.

Same thing for Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., -- he issued a very strong statement against the bailout as a candidate, and then voted for the bailout today. Again, this suggests Merkley -- who I was previously convinced was a principled working-class populist -- is starting his Senate career epitomizing the worst kinds of images people have of politicians -- people who sound like they're for "the folks" at election time, who then sell out "the folks" once in Washington.

So what we've learned is that lots of our new senators -- even those who campaigned as populists -- are already under the spell of "the most exclusive club in the world." And frankly, I don't care what their public explanations are. These are people who made airtight declarations against the bailout on a conceptual level -- and then walked away from those declarations when it came time to vote. We've learned (once again) that if there's not constant pressure on lawmakers to respect the most basic campaign declarations they made, they will sell us out -- especially on economic issues.

So what do we do now? Well first and foremost, we thank our lucky stars that there remain a core group of progressive senators who stuck to their guns. And then we  focus on the House. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., gives us our marching orders in this Bloomberg News story:

    House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said he has "some doubt" Congress will approve his legislation setting terms for releasing $350 billion of financial-rescue funds because the White House's mishandling of the first half of the money has created a lack of confidence.

    "The Bush administration did such a bad job of administering the first $350 billion," said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, in a Bloomberg Television interview today. "There's a great deal of anger in the country" over the way the funds were handled.

So this means if you don't want to see your tax dollars once again given away to Wall Street fat cats, you have to get in touch with your House member and tell him or her to stop the kleptocracy. Make your voice heard.

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