The Obama administration says it will act this week to help keep struggling Americans from losing their homes, boost lending and stabilize the financial system. The administration is preparing to make use of the second half of the $700-billion financial rescue package Congress approved last year.
Government bailouts are never popular, particularly when huge sums of taxpayer money are spent to prop up private firms that are perceived to have acted irresponsibly. Such is the case with the current financial bailout, where the government is authorized to spend more than $2,000 for every man, woman and child in the country to rescue banks and financial firms linked to the home mortgage meltdown that helped plunge the United States into recession.
The Bush administration spent the first half of the bailout fund, $350 billion. What to do with the second half now falls to President Obama. His chief economic advisor, Lawrence Summers, spoke on ABC's This Week program.
"The focus is going to be on increasing the flow of credit," said Lawrence Summers. "There will be support for banks, so that they remain stable and are in a position to lend. There will be support for the credit markets. And, absolutely critically, there will be support and pressure that assures that these needless [home] foreclosures are avoided."
But even those who say the bailout is necessary admit the program has an image problem. Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill spoke on NBC's Meet the Press program.
"We have got to quit talking about this [bailout in a way that suggests] that we are helping the banks," said Claire McCaskill. "It is not about helping bankers. It is not about helping big guys on Wall Street. It is about making credit flow in this country. We cannot have this economy recover, if we cannot figure out a way for these banks to start making more loans."
The bailout bill was championed by the Bush administration, but passed Congress with more Democratic than Republican support. Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence remains an outspoken critic of the effort.
"I strongly opposed the banking bailout last fall, because I do not believe we can nationalize every bad mortgage in America," said Mike Pence. "I do not believe we can nationalize every failing bank in America. What troubles me about the impending announcement by the Obama administration is that it just seems to be more of the same: more taxpayer dollars being shoveled from Main Street to Wall Street [from ordinary Americans to the investor class]."
Pence also spoke on Meet the Press.
Most major industrialized nations have joined the United States in intervening to prop up their financial systems. Although the worst of a devastating credit squeeze appears to have passed, many banks remain at risk of failure, and consumers and businesses around the world continue to face challenges in obtaining loans.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is expected to unveil the Obama administration's plan for the remaining bailout money, perhaps on Tuesday. It will coincide with continuing efforts by the Obama administration to secure congressional passage of an even larger economic recovery package.