Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.
In a letter written to fellow legislators over the weekend, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., added his voice to a dedicated resistance still fighting against the federal government’s $700 billion bailout of the financial industry and demanding accountability for how the money is spent.
“Congress abdicated its Constitutional responsibility by signing a truly blank check over to the Treasury Secretary,” Inhofe writes. “However, the lame duck session of Congress offers us a tremendous opportunity to change course. We should take it.”
Inhofe joins other Republicans, such as S.C. Governor Mark Sanford, who have called into question how Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has allocated the first $350 billion of the $700 billion bailout package, officially called the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
“I firmly believe action is required by Congress,” Inhofe writes. “I plan to push for legislation that will require Secretary Paulson’s plan for the remaining $350 billion in authorized TARP funds to be ratified by an affirmative vote in the U.S. Congress.”
Gov. Sanford sent a letter of his own last week directly to Paulson, citing examples just in South Carolina of financial institutions retiring executives with multimillion-dollar “golden parachutes” in order to qualify for bailout funds and banks that don’t need the money applying for it anyway, just to remain competitive.
“The federal government, and by extension taxpayers, are being gamed,” Sanford wrote. “I think it’s dangerous over the long run the way that taxpayers are being sapped.”
“The Wall Street Journal reported last week that some $40 billion is being paid to executives of banking giants that are getting bailout payments,” wrote Sanford. “On top of that, Bloomberg reported today that the Federal Reserve is refusing to identify who is even getting $2 trillion in emergency loans.”
Now Sanford is asking his constituents – and Inhofe is asking his colleagues – to demand accountability for how the bailout funds are spent.
“In the rush to ‘do something’ about the turmoil in the credit markets, Congress has failed miserably in keeping an eye out for the taxpayers and watching for unintended consequences of this bailout,” Gov. Sanford says in a statement on his website. “To put it simply, taxpayers are getting gamed. While we continue to believe that the bailout was an incredibly bad idea in the first place, it’s being made worse by loose rules and oversight that are putting taxpayers on the hook for billions more.”
“It is just outrageous that the American people don’t know that Congress doesn’t know how much money he (Paulson) has given away to anyone,” Inhofe told the Tulsa World.
“I just think we have to draw the line someplace, and the time is here,” Inhofe said.
Secretary Paulson has come under even increased criticism following last week’s announcement that he was scrapping the centerpiece of the $700 billion bailout – buying troubled mortgage-backed securities – in favor of other stimulus plans.
“My mouth is open,” Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. told a television interviewer about the announcement. “It was a very hard vote for many of us who voted for that package, and now all of a sudden we have an audible and we’re spending it on something else.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, told the Los Angeles Times, “When you see so many changes, you wonder if they really know what they’re doing.”
Inhofe was also quick to condemn the switch in his letter to fellow senators:
“Why did Paulson reverse course?,” Inhofe asks. “Thursday’s Los Angeles Times provides the answer. ‘Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson’s decision to abandon plans to buy troubled bank assets shows that he has come to two conclusions about what was once the chief focus of the government’s $700-billion bailout: The first is that it wouldn’t work.'”
In his announcement of the change of direction last week, the Times reported, Paulson suggested that the government’s financial bailout had entered a “time out” period as Obama prepared to take office. Paulson said Congress must work with Obama to decide during the next couple of months what role federal officials should play in the housing market.
If Inhofe is successful in persuading his colleagues, Congress will use the downtime to increase oversight on how the latter half of the bailout is spent.
“During the lame duck session, I will be taking the following actions,” Inhofe pledges to his fellow senators. “First and foremost, if Secretary Paulson submits his plan to Congress in order to access the remaining $350 billion while we are in session, a doubtful prospect, I plan to immediately introduce the disapproval resolution pursuant to Section 115 of the EESA and push for its enactment.
“I will also introduce and actively pursue enactment of legislation to do two things,” Inhofe writes. “First, it will … require an affirmative vote on the part of Congress to approve Treasury’s plan for the remaining $350 billion, instead of the current statutory process which gives Secretary Paulson far too much latitude. Second, it will require a freeze on any remaining funds of the first $350 billion.
“It is imperative that we not allow that amount of money to be added to a deficit approaching $1 trillion this year without any input from the legislative branch,” Inhofe writes.