A pig without lipstick

A PIG WITHOUT LIPSTICK…. I’ve been trying to find a credible voice on fiscal matters that believes the Bush administration’s bailout is a good idea, and should be approved by Congress without alteration. I can’t find one.

The plan seems to suffer more as the scrutiny grows more intense, but I’d go with the accountability/oversight problem as the most glaring.

The Bush administration sought unchecked power from Congress to buy $700 billion in bad mortgage investments from financial companies in what would be an unprecedented government intrusion into the markets.

Through his plan, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson aims to avert a credit freeze that would bring the financial system and the world’s largest economy to a standstill. The bill would prevent courts from reviewing actions taken under its authority.

“He’s asking for a huge amount of power,” said Nouriel Roubini, an economist at New York University. “He’s saying, ‘Trust me, I’m going to do it right if you give me absolute control.’ This is not a monarchy.”

Atrios, after noting the $700 billion price tag, highlights this portion of the proposal: “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

If we were dealing with a competent, capable administration, which had proven itself reliable in dealing with fiscal and budgetary policy, it would still be an extraordinary gamble to turn over hundreds of billions of dollars with no strings at all. But we’re dealing with the Bush administration, which hasn’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt.

I can understand the underlying point here. Companies showed some spectacularly bad judgment and bought up some ugly mortgages. To keep those companies from imploding, Paulson wants to use our money to take those mortgages off their hands. If the administration had a plan to buy them up for a song, the approach need not be completely ridiculous, though Paulson has not yet so much as hinted about pricing, or how, exactly, his plan might actually work in practice.

But that’s why some safeguards — you know, checks and balances — seems like it might be helpful in a case like this. As the plan is currently written, not only will oversight be discouraged, it’ll be impossible, by design. Congress is supposed to hand over in upwards of a trillion dollars to Bush’s economic team, and then voluntarily forfeit the right to oversee how the money is spent.

If there’s a good reason to establish this kind of process, it’s hiding well.