Pete Stark: Bush not worth ‘$700 billion gamble’

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, entered a statement today in opposition to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, the $700 billion financial-industry bailout bill cobbled together by Congress in recent days, and is voting against it even now. Here’s what Stark had to say:

“Madam Speaker, I rise today to oppose H.R. 3997, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.

“President Bush tells us that we face unparalleled financial doom if this $700 billion bailout is not approved today. He and his Treasury Secretary — a former Wall Street fat cat — tell us that we have reached the point of ‘crisis.’ That is a familiar line from this President. It sounds like the disastrous rush to war in Iraq and the subsequent stampede to enact the Patriot Act. As I opposed the Iraq War and the Patriot Act, I stand in opposition to his latest rush to judgment.

“We are not in a sudden crisis. It has been building over the past 8 years of the Bush Administration. Lax oversight of the financial industry ballooned into a house of cards.

“Homeowners throughout the country have seen property values decline as their mortgage rates adjusted upward. As a result, millions of people across our country have already lost their homes to foreclosure and many more are on the way.

“It is easy to blame consumers for purchasing homes they couldn’t afford. However, these consumers weren’t informed of the extreme risk they were assuming. Creative financiers invented a market for these risky mortgages and preyed upon consumers by peddling the American dream of homeownership to make that market flourish.

“While those were poor choices by consumers, they pale in comparison to the irresponsible bets made on Wall Street. These mortgages and their declining collateral values are the root of this financial crisis.

“We now face a choice. President Bush tells us we must inject $700 billion into this market to avoid a total meltdown. He and Secretary Paulson say it is the only answer. Many economists — who don’t have a financial stake in Wall Street or an eight-year record of bad decisions — tell us it isn’t the only choice. An option would be to assist homeowners with their mortgage payments. By making sure these mortgages remain viable, the market should stabilize.

“The bill before us today is basically the same three-page Wall Street give away first put forth by President Bush. The fig leaf adjustments are not enough to outweigh the fact that no one knows if this bill is what’s needed. I’m not willing to make a $700 billion gamble that President Bush is right after eight years of seeing all that he’s done wrong.”

That’s a big break with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who was doing all she could today to get the bill passed. See her floor statement, after the jump…

“Madam Speaker, when was the last time someone asked you for $700 billion?

“It is a number that is staggering, but tells us only the costs of the Bush Administration’s failed economic policies — policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system.

“Democrats believe in the free market, which can and does create jobs, wealth, and capital, but left to its own devices it has created chaos.

“That chaos is the dismal picture painted by Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke a week and a half ago in the Capitol. As they pointed out, we confront a crisis of historic magnitude that has the ability to do serious injury not simply to our economy, but to the American people: not just to Wall Street, but to everyday Americans on Main Street.

“It is our responsibility today, to help avert that catastrophic outcome.

“Let us be clear: This is a crisis caused on Wall Street. But it is a crisis that reaches to Main Street in every city and town of the United States.

“It is a crisis that freezes credit, causes families to lose their homes, cripples small businesses, and makes it harder to find jobs.

“It is a crisis that never had to happen. It is now the duty of every Member of this body to recognize that the failure to act responsibly, with full protections for the American taxpayer, would compound the damage already done to the financial security of millions of American families.

“Over the past several days, we have worked with our Republican colleagues to fashion an alternative to the original plan of the Bush Administration.

“I must recognize the outstanding leadership provided by Chairman Barney Frank, whose enormous intellectual and strategic abilities have never before been so urgently needed, or so widely admired.

“I also want to recognize Rahm Emanuel, who combined his deep knowledge of financial institutions with his pragmatic policy experience, to resolve key disagreements.

“Secretary Paulson deserves credit for working day and night to help reach an agreement and for his flexibility in negotiating changes to his original proposal.

“Democrats insisted that legislation responding to this crisis must protect the American people and Main Street from the meltdown on Wall Street.

“The American people did not decide to dangerously weaken our regulatory and oversight policies. They did not make unwise and risky financial deals. They did not jeopardize the economic security of the nation. And they must not pay the cost of this emergency recovery and stabilization bill.

“So we insisted that this bill contain several key provisions:

“This legislation must contain independent and ongoing oversight to ensure that the recovery program is managed with full transparency and strict accountability.

“The legislation must do everything possible to allow as many people to stay in their homes rather than face foreclosure.

“The corporate CEOs whose companies will benefit from the public’s participation in this recovery must not benefit by exorbitant salaries and golden parachute retirement bonuses.

“Our message to Wall Street is this: the party is over. The era of golden parachutes for high-flying Wall Street operators is over. No longer will the U.S. taxpayer bailout the recklessness of Wall Street.

“The taxpayers who bear the risk in this recovery must share in the upside as the economy recovers.

“And should this program not pay for itself, the financial institutions that benefited, not the taxpayers, must bear responsibility for making up the difference.

“These were the Democratic demands to safeguard the American taxpayer, to help the economy recover, and to impose tough accountability as a central component of this recovery effort.

“This legislation is not the end of congressional activity on this crisis. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will continue to hold investigative and oversight hearings to find out how the crisis developed, where mistakes were made, and how the recovery must be managed to protect the middle class and the American taxpayer.

“With passage of this legislation today, we can begin the difficult job of turning our economy around, of helping those who depend on a growing economy and stable financial institutions for a secure retirement, for the education of their children, for jobs and small business credit.

“Today we must act for those Americans, for Main Street, and we must act now, with the bipartisan spirit of cooperation which allowed us to fashion this legislation.

“This not enough. We are also working to restore our nation’s economic strength by passing a new economic recovery stimulus package — a robust, job creating bill — that will help Americans struggling with high prices, get our economy back on track, and renew the American Dream.

“Today, we will act to avert this crisis, but informed by our experience of the past eight years with the failed economic leadership that has left us left capable of meeting the challenges of the future.

“We choose a different path. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, we will break free with a failed past and take America in a New Direction to a better future.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.