There is nothing to celebrate about the $700-billion bailout passed by the House and quickly signed into law Friday afternoon by President Bush. It is a bitter pill — and a big one — that has to be swallowed to start healing the tremendous damage caused by the excesses of Wall Street, lax regulation by government and irresponsible borrowing by too many Americans. The next president and the next Congress will have plenty left to do to nurture the economy back to health and restore confidence in the system.
The urgency of the situation was underscored by the news earlier Friday that another 159,000 jobs disappeared in September, the most in more than five years. Businesses cannot function, much less expand, without access to credit. Banks have been increasingly unwilling to lend money as the crisis deepened and sent tremors throughout the global economy. As President Bush acknowledged after the House vote, the bailout will not turn the situation around overnight. But there should be signs of a thaw in the credit freeze as the administration starts working out the details of using public money to buy bad mortgage-related securities and other troubled investments.
The better course of action would have been to pass the original bailout bill that the House rejected on Monday. The Senate version the House approved on Friday won 58 more votes, but it came loaded with $150-billion in unrelated tax breaks. Some of those benefit Floridians, including the patch for the alternative minimum tax that would have otherwise snagged middle class taxpayers and the federal tax deduction for state sales taxes. But other provisions, such as tax breaks for wooden arrows, are the unfortunate price of failing to do the right thing the first time.
Between the start of the week and the end, public opinion started shifting a bit. Voter outrage over the cost and high-paid Wall Street executives became a bit more balanced with rising concerns from small businesses and from workers watching their home values and retirement accounts plummet. Two Florida Republicans were among those who saw the light and changed their votes: Reps. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami. Unfortunately, these Tampa Bay House members maintained their opposition: Kathy Castor, D-Tampa; Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; and C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores. By their votes, they bet the region's economic future that the skies would brighten on their own or that Congress would become more enlightened. It may have been a safe vote, but it was not a courageous one.