Bailout vote: Congress shrinks your 401(k)

By MARTIN SIEFF  |  Sept. 30, 2008 at 10:45 AM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- It took only a few hours for the 133 Republicans and 95 Democrats who voted against the emergency bailout plan Monday to learn the first costs of their actions: $1.2 trillion.

That was the amount wiped off equity values on the Dow Jones Industrial Average by the close of trading Monday after the U.S. House of Representatives rejected the emergency, bipartisan bailout package to prevent a total fiscal meltdown by 228 votes to 205. Only one of the 435 members of the House did not choose sides in the epochal vote.

The DJIA fell 778 points by the end of trading Monday. It was the biggest one-day point loss ever. It was the first one-day, $1 trillion-plus loss in history.

That loss guarantees that a huge amount of money has been wiped off the value of 401(k)s affecting retirement plans. Tens of millions of Americans will be retiring in poverty or will not be able to afford retirement at all because of the votes those 133 Republicans and 95 Democrats made on this fateful "Fools Monday." Perhaps they might want to e-mail their representatives and tell them what they now think of their votes.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is responsible for at least half of this debacle. Her speech Monday, supposedly in favor of the bailout, was as partisan, short-sighted and even hysterical as anything she has ever said. It was the defining moment of her career, and she blew it. After only two years in office as speaker, unless she can look in the mirror and do a fundamental re-evaluation of where she went wrong in order to push through an emergency restored measure, she will be a dead duck in office.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, is politically dead, too. Like Pelosi, he couldn't get over the obsolete prejudices and stale partisan rhetoric of a lifetime to push the measure the way he should have, calling it a "crap sandwich."

Boehner was absolutely right to warn that retirement savings across the United States could "shrivel up to zero" if the measure didn't pass. But his leadership abilities proved non-existent when the chips were down.

By contrast, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., rose to the occasion. He pushed the bill courageously and with dignity, saying he stood united with his old rival Boehner on "this day of consequence for America."

Republican President George W. Bush's record was even worse. It was his administration that put together the rescue plan, yet 133 Republicans -- 38 more in number than Democrats -- defied his obviously less than persuasive arguments. Bush has never shown the slightest interest or even comprehension of anything concerning real world finance and economics, so this shouldn't really have come as a surprise.

Will the catastrophic fall of the Dow Jones lead to a rethink on the part of voters and their elected representatives? Any sane, well-meaning American has to hope that it will.

The Senate, ponderously fulfilling the role of more intelligent and reflective chamber that the Founding Fathers envisaged for it, is already moving in that direction. It was already clear by Tuesday morning that the upper chamber, working closely with House leaders, is going to push ahead with its own bill and tweak it a little.

Bailout II, therefore, is certainly coming. But it will take much, much more than tweaking the bill, or appeals from discredited leaders like Bush, Pelosi and Boehner to push it through.

The lack of responsible, intelligent or even adult thinking and analysis among the bill's opponents was reflected by the assertion of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., that passing the measure would be "a coffin on top of Ronald Reagan's coffin."

He didn't seem to realize that President Reagan let interest rates remain at double-digit figures to break the back of inflation, or that federal government spending more than doubled under Reagan.

Monday's bailout vote debacle was democracy at work, and it illustrated a crucial aspect of democracy -- namely, that voters have to be educated on the issues. The failure to grasp the connection between Wall Street and Main Street is a failure on the part of the leadership of this administration to explain it all clearly.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said it best: The American people didn't like the bill, and they convinced 95 Democrats and 133 Republicans to kill it. Communications from constituents to members of Congress were running 6-to-1 against passage of the bailout legislation.

The huge $700 billion measure was put forth by a lame-duck administration that had no political capital and very little credibility left, and it was supported by an unpopular congressional leadership that didn't try to make this issue appear to be anything but politics as usual. It wasn't sold in a politic way; it was force-fed by people who didn't seem to like it any better than those being force-fed.

Congress left town with a promise to come back and try again -- perhaps as soon as Thursday. They aren't off the hook: They still have to make a new deal powerful enough to make the credit markets liquid. But those 228 Republicans and Democrats who voted no on Monday will have to be convinced first.

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