How bailout deal will impact next president
A $700 billion US rescue of banks is not likely to crimp McCain's or Obama'sspending plans, at least in the short term.
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"We are concerned that the proposal in its original form did not adequately account for market risk and, therefore, understated costs," said Rep. John Spratt (D) of South Carolina, who chairs the panel, at a Sept. 24 hearing.Skip to next paragraph
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"As you can see, the customary accounting conventions are not an easy fit for the circumstances we find ourselves in. Yet, the convention used can have a major impact on how the request for $700 billion gets incorporated into the budget," he added.
Here's how CBO director Peter Orszag explained how the expected costs of the proposed rescue plan will be calculated: If the government buys an asset for $1 in a liquid market where there is competitive bidding, there is zero net gain or net loss at that point. "You've purchased something for $1 that's worth $1," he said.
But if the government buys something from a financial institution for $1 that is by some fair value of accounting basis only worth 50 cents, the government has lost 50 cents, and that is added to the deficit in that year.
"At this time, given the lack of specificity regarding how the program would be implemented and even what classes [of assets] would be purchased by the secretary, CBO cannot provide a meaningful estimate of the ultimate net cost of the administration's proposal," said. But assuming that there is still value in the mortgage-based assets that the Treasury Department plans to buy, the net cost "should be substantially less than $700 billion," Mr Orszag added.
It's an issue that congressional critics – and the voters flooding congressional phone lines with protests – are likely to challenge. The devil isn't just in the details of how the rescue plan is drafted, it's also in the practice of dealing with highly complex new financial instruments, those critics say.
"We're going down [an] uncharted path. We've never gone down a road like this with such intensity and such a massive amounts of money," says Sen. Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama, the ranking member on the Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Committee. "I think it's a horrible mistake."
"What [the Bush administration] is saying is there are going to be outlays when you acquire these assets, but eventually if you hold on to these and prices recover, you'll be able to offload them maybe at a profit but certainly not [at] much of a loss," says Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based group that advocates for lower deficits.
But the difference between this situation and the model from previous savings and loans bailouts from the 1980s and '90s is that mortgage systems have become much more complex, he says. "What you have now is not just the mortgage-backed securities, but you also have these much more exotic instruments – that were hedges against losses and hedges against those hedges – [and] when you unspool some of these, there isn't going to be anything."