The tuition is pretty high, but it’s not an elective course so, little by little and mostly against my will, I’m learning Economics.
The Senate passed a minimally modified version of the bailout, so the House gets another crack at it when they get back. (The House took two days off for Rosh Hashana but apparently there are no Jews in the Senate.) If I understand correctly, here’s how the Senate changed the bill: to make it look like they care about the average Joe, they will increase federal insurance on bank deposits from $100,000 to $250,000.
Now there’s a real weight off my shoulders.
I don’t think it’s the guy who has $250,000 in cash lying around who needs help. Personally, I wasn’t really worried about that anyway. Whenever I find myself with piles of cash exceeding $100,000, I find another bank. That will work until there is only one Bank of the Universe left and by then it won’t be a concern, since BOTU will have reached the ultimate Wall Street goal: Too Big to Fail.
But until then, if you only have one bank, and you have a quarter of a million in it, the Senate is looking out for you. Under the new rules, when your bank collapses, you are protected. If the bank runs out of money, the government will pay you back up to $250,000. The government—hey! That’s me! And Uncle Kenny and you and your mom and the mailman. Why, that could increase the $700 billion projected cost of this thing to …oh, wait. The only reason this new concession won’t be worse than the original plan is that it won’t actually do anything. Okay, then, never mind.
There’s another change the Senate made that should help keep the banks and brokerage firms from collapsing: doing away with the “mark to market” rule. Right now, they are required to value their assets at the price they would get if they sold them today. They say this is a problem, since nobody is willing to buy mortgage-backed securities at any price and that makes valuation “difficult.” It isn’t difficult for me here on Main Street—if I can’t sell it, it isn’t worth anything. But on Wall Street, the result is that the financial institutions have to report enormous losses, which has the same effect on the paper shuffling they call The Economy as sugar in your gas tank has on your car’s engine. So under the new plan, the bankers won’t have to do it that way—they can make up a value for the assets. This worked quite well for Enron, as I recall. For a time.
But that’s for (or against) future problems. For the immediate problem we—that’s you and me again—are going to buy up those “toxic assets” (you know it’s serious when “troubled” becomes “toxic”) to save the asses of the asses that currently own them.
Secretary Paulson emphasizes that we won’t be paying face value for them, but will buy them at the “distressed” price so maybe they will eventually go up and we won’t lose the whole bundle. I’m not sure how they will calculate the distressed price but I don’t doubt that they will come up with something. They could get advice from Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow—they should be easy to find…
While they were at it, the Senate added some sweeteners to the bill. What they actually did was tack on an old tax bill that the House had already rejected. It gives new tax breaks for making movies, revises the law to help people avoid the Alternative Minimum Tax, and a few other things. I think Ted Stevens may have a bridge in there, too, but I’m not sure.
Oh, and it’s not called “the $700 billion bailout” any more. Now it’s “the rescue package.” The $800 billion rescue package.