Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Franken Demands Immediate Congressional Hearings re Banks' Abuse of $700 Billion Bailout

Minnesota DFL candidate Al Franken -- the only U.S. Senate candidate who opposed the $700 billion Wall Street bailout -- today called for immediate hearings in light of reports indicating that banks may not be using those funds to unfreeze credit markets but, rather, for other purposes -- with the encouragement of the Treasury Department.

"Washington sprung into immediate action when Wall Street was in trouble, but there's been no help for struggling homeowners on Main Street and no solutions for middle-class families and small businesses hurt by the failed economic policies of the last eight years," said Franken. "And now we find that the $700 billion bailout is being used not to solve the problem, but to handpick winners and losers on Wall Street. That's an outrage.

"Taxpayer dollars should be helping taxpayers, not going to pad the bottom lines of the Wall Street bankers whose bad bets got us into this mess. This is exactly why we should never have passed this bill without proper accountability. And it's time for Congress to take action."

Earlier this month, the Bush administration announced that it would use bailout funds to inject capital directly into banks. They claimed that this would allow credit to start flowing again as banks lent that money to other entities. But recent reports indicate that, instead, the banks receiving these funds are using them to buy up other, smaller banks. And the Treasury Department, according to a column by New York Times financial columnist Joe Nocera, is encouraging the practice.

Meanwhile, Wall Street financial institutions like Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch continue to pay out billions in bonuses, despite receiving bailout funds.

This morning, during his statewide "For The Middle Class, For A Change" bus tour, Franken stopped at Bouquets by Carolyn, a small business located in St. Paul, Minn. There, he called for:
* Immediate hearings into potential abuses of the $700 billion bailout by Wall Street banks
* Straight answers from the Bush administration on its real plans for these taxpayer dollars
* An administration guarantee that banks receiving bailout funds will use them to lend
* A revocation of U.S. Treasury Department Secretary Henry Paulson's authority to implement the bailout if he cannot explain how his plan is serving taxpayers

In an editorial today, the New York Times wrote, "Shortly after the bailout was enacted, The Times's Mark Landler reported that Treasury officials also wanted to steer the bailout billions to banks that would use the money to buy up other banks. Now, lo and behold, with $250 billion in bailout funds committed to dozens of large and regional banks, it turns out that many of the recipients of this investment from taxpayers are not all that interested in making loans. And it appears that Mr. Paulson is not so bothered by their reluctance."

Case in point: Merrill Lynch. Two days ago, Bloomberg reported that, while Merrill Lynch is laying off employees, the financial institution is paying out billions in bonuses. According to Bloomberg, "Five straight quarters of losses and a 70 percent slide in its stock this year haven't stopped Merrill Lynch & Co. from allocating about $6.7 billion to pay bonuses ... The money Merrill has set aside for bonuses equates to an average $110,000 for each of its 60,900 people, up from $108,000 a year ago because more than 3,000 jobs have been cut."

Apparently, Merrill Lynch isn't the only bailout recipient that's utilizing taxpayer funds to reward its employees. Bloomberg also reported that Morgan Stanley and Lehman are both setting aside billions for bonus payments. According to Bloomberg, "Even some employees at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., which declared the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history last month, will get the same bonus they received a year ago ... Morgan Stanley, the second-biggest securities firm until it also converted to a bank, has $6.44 billion for bonuses, or $138,700 per person, down 20 percent from last year."

GoodBiz113's take: Al Franken is right: Congressional oversight is needed, post-haste, to hold the Wall Street bailout recipients accountable for seeing that taxpayer funds are used to help fuel America's economy [e.g., small businesses, homeowners, working families], as intended -- not to lavishly reward their own fat-cat executives and employees.

SOURCES: Al Franken for U.S. Senate, Bloomberg, New York Times

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