Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Comrade Greenspan: Seize The Banks!

Posted in Economy by allisonkilkenny on February 18, 2009

FT.com

alan-greenspanThe US government may have to nationalise some banks on a temporary basis to fix the financial system and restore the flow of credit, Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, has told the Financial Times.

In an interview, Mr Greenspan, who for decades was regarded as the high priest of laisser-faire capitalism, said nationalisation could be the least bad option left for policymakers.

”It may be necessary to temporarily nationalise some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring,” he said. “I understand that once in a hundred years this is what you do.”

Mr Greenspan’s comments capped a frenetic day in which policymakers across the political spectrum appeared to be moving towards accepting some form of bank nationalisation.

“We should be focusing on what works,” Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, told the FT. “We cannot keep pouring good money after bad.” He added, “If nationalisation is what works, then we should do it.”

Speaking to the FT ahead of a speech to the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday, Mr Greenspan said that “in some cases, the least bad solution is for the government to take temporary control” of troubled banks either through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or some other mechanism.

The former Fed chairman said temporary government ownership would ”allow the government to transfer toxic assets to a bad bank without the problem of how to price them.”

But he cautioned that holders of senior debt – bonds that would be paid off before other claims – might have to be protected even in the event of nationalisation.

”You would have to be very careful about imposing any loss on senior creditors of any bank taken under government control because it could impact the senior debt of all other banks,” he said. “This is a credit crisis and it is essential to preserve an anchor for the financing of the system. That anchor is the senior debt.”

Mr Greenspan’s comments came as President Barack Obama signed into law the $787bn fiscal stimulus in Denver, Colorado. Mr Obama will announce on Wednesday a$50bn programme for home foreclosure relief in Phoenix, Arizona. Meanwhile, the White House was working last night on the latest phase of the bailout for two of the big three US carmakers.

In his speech after signing the stimulus, which he called the “most sweeping recovery package in our history”, Mr Obama set out a vertiginous timetable of federal decisions in the coming weeks that included fixing the US banking system, submission next week of the 2009 budget and a bipartisan White House meeting to address longer-term fiscal discipline.

“We need to end a culture where we ignore problems until they become full-blown crises,” said Mr Obama. “Today does not mark the end of our economic troubles… but it does mark the beginning of the end.”

Obama Goes To Bat For Banks

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 25, 2009

Open Left

bankster-chessTen days ago, we reported on Open Left that bankruptcy “cram-down” mortgage relief would not appear in the stimulus, but would appear in a different piece of legislation later this year. Despite our reports, the fight over bankruptcy “cram-down” legislation in the stimulus did not actually end ten days ago. As recently as Thursday, House Democrats will still fighting in to include the measure in the stimulus, and Senator Dick Durbin, the leading proponent of the measure in the Senate, was denying that President Obama was opposed to including the measure in the stimulus.

However, any lingering doubt about the fate of bankruptcy “cram-down” reform in the stimulus can now be put to rest. Senator Durbin has confirmed that President Obama opposes including the measure in the stimulus, and favors including it in later legislation instead (more in the extended entry):

Chris Bowers :: Tough Road Ahead for Bankruptcy Reform

The key to passage of the bankruptcy bill is the Senate, where Democrats need 60 votes to stop a possible filibuster. Ten Democrats — all still in the Senate — would not back the plan in a vote a year ago.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the chief Senate sponsor of the bill, said Obama persuaded him in a White House meeting Friday to remove the bankruptcy proposal from an economic recovery package — to ensure it doesn’t jeopardize the stimulus bill. But Obama pledged his support for the bankruptcy solution, Durbin said.

Obama said he would work with Durbin to attach the proposal to other ”must pass” legislation — with the hope that supporters of the overall bill would not vote against it because of the bankruptcy provisions.

There will definitely be no cram-down in the stimulus now. Further, with ten Senate Democrats opposed to the measure last year, we can also expect a big fight over the measure when the home foreclosure mitigation bill comes up later this year. In fact, The ten Democrats in question are actually eleven, now that Lieberman is back in the caucus. Baucus (MT), Byrd (WV), Carper (DE), Johnson (SD), Landrieu (LA), Lieberman (CT), Lincoln (AR), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR) and Tester (MT). Without a single Republican defector, this will be a difficult bill to pass at any point.

However, there are rays of hope. First, the economic crisis might actually be changing votes. For example, Mike Thompson, one of the sixteen House Blue Dogs who in 2007 sent out a letter opposing cram-down legislation, offered a promising response to Open Left commenter kaleidescope when s/he called Thompson’s office about cram-down legislation in the stimulus:

I called my Representative, Mike Thompson (CA-1), a blue dog, about HR 225.  My experience is that you get better results if you call the local (as opposed to the D.C.) office.  You get to talk to a career staffer instead of an intern. Thompson’s Eureka staffer told me Thompson is starting to edge away from his blue dog affiliations.  She noted that he is fiscally conservative, but that “everything has changed in the economy” since 2007.

Second, there is always the hope of working a deal where the Democrats who are opposed agree to not filibuster, but then vote “no” on an up-or-down, simple majority vote for the legislation.

It is pretty sad that, even with the Democratic trifecta and even with the collapse of the credibility of the banking industry, that the banking lobby can still delay, and possibly even stop, good legislation like this. They can twist Congressional arms into forking over trillions of dollars on their behalf, all the while twisting those arms to make sure homeowners facing foreclosure get nothing. At least it makes it clear who is actually running the country.