Economic Outlook: Reform rhetoric

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  April 14, 2010 at 8:49 AM
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Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky framed the opposition argument on the finance reform bill, spinning the overhaul as bailouts forever.

"We cannot allow endless taxpayer-funded bailouts," McConnell said in a sound bite reported by The New York Times. "The fact is this bill wouldn't solve the problems that led the financial crisis. It would make them worse," he said.

The early tit-for-tat on the Senate floor was quickly reframed by White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki, who countered, "The Senate bill explicitly mandates that a large financial firm that faces failure be allowed to fail."

The debate in just those words reveals the circumstantial backdrop the financial reform bill is up against, namely that debate is taking place in an election year.

With that in mind, McConnell qualified his vote for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program in the waning days of the Bush administration as a worthy vote, "not to say that we think it ever ought to be done again."

The price tag in the bill for unwinding failing firms that threaten the rest of the financial system, set up as an "orderly liquidation fund," would be $50 billion. The House version of the bill calls for $150 billion to fund a process in which a council of regulators would give the Treasury Department authority to take over a firm naming the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as the receiver.

That portion of Sen. Christopher Dodd's bill was designed in negotiations between Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., but the final package was pushed through the Senate Banking Committee without Republican support, leaving the bill vulnerable to accusations it is strictly a bill penned by Democrats with whatever incendiary evil that implies.

Democrats will point to Republican connections to big banks and try to cash in on the public's disgust with bankers and their big bonus checks paid out in the face of a financial meltdown. Republicans will warn voters that the bill is another major expense the country does not need, similar to the healthcare reform bill and huge stimulus spending packages.

In round one, Democrats noted McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, sat down with hedge fund managers in New York City recently -- proof Republicans were cozier with wealth than with out-of-work Americans.

For those who vote with their wallets, U.S. markets rose modestly Tuesday, despite a U.S. trade deficit that grew to $38.7 billion, up $2.7 billion in February.

Alcoa, submitting the first major report of the corporate reporting season, said it lost 20 cents per share in the first quarter, encouraging in that a year ago in the same period it lost about 60 cents a share. With the uneven reports, the Dow Jones industrial average hovered above 11,000 points, an 18-month high nearly 70 percent above its March 2009 low.

In international markets Wednesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 0.39 percent, while the Shanghai composite index added 0.16 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong gained 0.08 percent, while the Sensex in India slipped 0.17 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia added 0.87 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 in Britain rose 0.84 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany rose 0.92 percent. The CAC 40 in France gained 0.93 percent, while the pan-European DJ Stoxx 50 added 1.04 percent.

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