Editorial: Remember the people (Rutland Herald)

The Bush administration is making a case that Congress is obliged to act quickly to pass a financial bailout bill giving the treasury secretary a blank check amounting to $700 billion.

Congress must act quickly, but it is in no way obliged to surrender its independent judgment about the proper course of action. A Republican free market philosophy has produced the present crisis, and the moral obligation now belongs to the Bush administration to allow Congress to take part in the remedy.

Sen. Bernard Sanders does not sound like such a radical anymore. Instead, the staggering irresponsibility of the financial sector and the failure of Washington to rein in its excesses have borne out the direst warnings from Vermont's senator.

Sanders' commentary on this page insists that the cost of the bailout must not be shouldered by middle class taxpayers. That is probably impossible. The immense sums under discussion will affect everyone. But Sanders is correct in insisting that the bailout must hold accountable those responsible for this crisis while bringing greater fairness to the economy.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has urged Congress to pass a "clean" bill, meaning he doesn't want Congress to impose conditions on the $700 billion he is asking for. But not to impose conditions would be an abdication of responsibility comparable to the failures that have led to the present crisis.

One measure favored by Democrats is a cap on executive pay. This is a must. Executive pay amounting to tens of millions of dollars was already a scandal. Any company hoping to avail itself of the bailout must agree that no executive should receive pay in excess of, say, $2 million. Some may not be able to keep up with payments on mansions, vacation homes or sailboats. But the personal bankruptcies of a few CEOs would merely put them on equal footing with the millions of Americans who have lost their homes because of irresponsible lending. Shouldn't the CEOs who have brought us this mess have to pay something?

At the same time, Congress must include measures to halt the wave of foreclosures that has decimated whole neighborhoods throughout the nation. Help in this crisis must not be strictly of the trickle-down variety. Bringing stability to America's families and neighborhoods by allowing for renegotiated terms would allow stability to trickle up.

Congress must also prevent Wall Street from using bailout money to feather its nest. It is not Washington's job to help companies tidy up their portfolios so they can return to the old way of doing business. To the greatest extent consistent with market stability, terms must be included allowing the government to make back what it puts in.

Congress must also proceed to shape the nation's tax system in a way that allows the upper brackets to shoulder their fair share. Extending Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, as John McCain demands, must now be considered a nonstarter. The surtax demanded by Sanders on wealthy taxpayers would be one way to pay for at least part of the bailout.

Congress is under no obligation to roll over on the bailout or to be rushed into action. Congress and the White House have for a generation rolled over and given Wall Street what it wanted. Now it is time for Congress to give a thought to the American people.