“This was no act of God,” Mr. Dodd said

Posted by Kris | Wednesday, September 24, 2008 | | 0 comments »

Congress took on the $700 billion bailout on Tuesday with what Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, called “the most palpable sense of national crisis since we gathered here in this building immediately following the 9/11 attacks.”

That’s not exactly how it looked to those trying to follow the testimony of Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Crisis connotes rolled-up sleeves, pots of coffee and the casting aside of protocol, ceremony and partisan grandstanding. Instead, what viewers saw was Washington as usual: senators pontificating while behind them aides whispered and sent text messages on their BlackBerrys.

Congress still doesn’t seem to understand that the camera not only adds 10 pounds, it also takes away dignity and self-serving excuses.

The question-and-answer part was long, complicated and hard to follow, with lots of technical references to “reverse auctions,” financial shorthand (“moral hazard” and “naked short” ) and senatorial oratory (“Charybdis” is the word Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, used to warn of rash action.)

And that only accentuated the long and redundant windup. Almost every member of the Senate Banking Committee wagged a finger at what they described as Wall Street’s greed and lax regulatory oversight. Just about all of them voiced passionate concern for the ordinary taxpayer. And every one of them felt the need to say so on television. That loquacity drove cable news programs to cover other events like the stock market and the General Assembly. C-Span 3 stayed the course.

Despite all the talk of urgency, all 21 committee members clung to their prerogative of making an opening statement, including one who arrived after the witnesses had already begun giving their testimony — and it took almost two hours before Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues had a chance to explain their proposal. A few senators did heed an admonition by the chairman, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, and cut their time short; but not all, perhaps because Mr. Dodd made full indignant use of his allotted eight minutes.

“This was no act of God,” Mr. Dodd said. “This was not like Hurricane Hike — Ike, rather. It was created by a combustible combination of private greed and public regulatory neglect, and now we must confront the present crisis.”

The senators evidently wanted to convince an anxious, angry public that they are just as enraged. “Does Wall Street owe the American people an apology?” Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, asked Mr. Bernanke. Mr. Bernanke took him literally and said Wall Street is an “abstraction.” But he conceded that “a lot of people made big mistakes.”

What none of the senators were ready to do was apologize for their own mistakes. Mr. Dodd, who has received more contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s political action committees and employees ($133,900 since 1989) than any other senator, didn’t mention lapses in Congressional oversight. Instead, he said he began warning Mr. Bernanke many months ago about the housing crisis, blaming absentee regulators and “reckless, careless and sometimes unscrupulous actors in the mortgage lending industry.”

Senator Elizabeth Dole, Republican of North Carolina, used her time to take aim at “Congressional apologists” for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who blocked legislation she and other Republicans had proposed to rein them in. She said an “army of lobbyists” had spent as much as $100 million to thwart reform efforts. “As we know, one of my committee colleagues proclaimed in April 2005 that Fannie and Freddie have done, and I quote, ‘a very, very good job.’ ” She was referring to Mr. Schumer.

The blame game, however, is already being played and replayed on the campaign trail. Viewers concerned about the economic crisis are more likely to reward unity and swift, decisive action. Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, said the bailout plan made him feel “frightful to the point of almost panic.”

The hearing wasn’t exactly reassuring.(The problem has already happened, too late to start to point fingers)