Anxious Early This Week, Happy by the End of It and Now You Pay * Half a Trillion of Your Money to Buy Bad Debt * in Business: Some Short-Selling Is Banned * Also: Do We Know If the Worst Is Behind Us?
Byline: Associated Press
WASHINGTON Struggling to stave off financial catastrophe, the Bush administration on Friday laid out a radical bailout plan with a jaw-dropping price tag a takeover of a half-trillion dollars or more in worthless mortgages and other bad debt held by tottering institutions.
Relieved investors sent stocks soaring on Wall Street and around the globe. The Dow Jones industrials average rose 368 points after surging 410 points the day before on rumors the federal action was afoot.
A grim-faced President Bush acknowledged risks to taxpayers in what would be the most sweeping government intervention to rescue failing financial institutions since the Great Depression. But he declared, "The risk of not acting would be far higher."
The administration is asking Congress for far-reaching new powers to take over troubled mortgages from banks and other companies, including purchasing sour mortgage-backed securities. Administration officials and congressional leaders are to work out details over the weekend.
Congressional officials said they expected a request for legal authority to buy up the bad loans, at a cost in excess of $500 billion to the government. Democrats were discussing whether to try to attach middle class assistance to the legislation, despite a request from Bush to avoid adding controversial items that could delay action. An expansion of jobless benefits was one possibility.
In other major steps, the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve moved to give money-market mutual funds the same kind of federal protection, at least temporarily, that now applies to savings and checking accounts and certificates of deposit at banks. Money-market accounts sold through retail banks are already FDIC-insured.
The spreading global selling panic had started to threaten some money-market funds, usually thought of as rock-solid investments. Administration officials feared a run on these funds, held by millions of Americans.
"Every American should know that the federal government continues to enforce laws and regulations protecting your money," Bush said at the White House. The 75-year-old Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation now insures savings and checking accounts and certificates of deposit up to a total of $100,000 per person per bank.
Congressional leaders of both parties welcomed the administrations bold moves, after a series of ad hoc rescues.
The talk on the presidential campaign trail, barely six weeks before the election, was of bipartisanship, too.
Democrat Barack Obama said it was critical that leaders in both parties work in concert. "Truly, we are all in this together," he said.
GOP presidential nominee John McCain said leaders should put aside partisan differences and "any action should be designed to keep people in their homes and safeguard the life savings of all Americans."
But not all agreed with the moves. "This could be the biggest bailout in the history of the country and could ultimately cost $500 billion to $1 trillion," said Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee. "You have to ask, who is paying for this? I would submit to you it is always the taxpayers."
There are precedents for such a federal takeover.
In the late 1980s, the government created the Resolution Trust Corporation to tackle the savings and loan crisis. It acquired the defaulted mortgages, foreclosed real estate and other assets of nearly a thousand failed S&Ls, restoring order and stability to the system. Resolving that crisis took six years and $125 billion in taxpayer money roughly equal to $200 billion in todays dollars.
And there was the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a Depression-era relief program formed in 1932 by President Hoover that tried to revive the market by giving loans to banks and other businesses.
On Friday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson gave few details about the structure of the new program. …