September 22, 2008 / 5:40 AM / 9 years ago

Bailout debate mulls making Wall Street pay

8 Min Read

<p>Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson speaks to reporters in the briefing room of the White House following his meeting about the economy with President George W. Bush Washington September 15, 2008.Jim Young</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The planned $700 billion bailout to shore up the battered U.S. financial system looked set to drag into next week as Washington lawmakers haggled over how exactly they could make Wall Street pay for its rescue.

Stocks and the U.S. dollar tumbled on Monday as emerging details of the plan left many players skeptical that the rescue, which would give powers to the U.S. Treasury Department to buy up toxic mortgage-related debt from financial groups, would work.

"The big detail we want to know is how is the government going to buy these securities, and what they will pay, how that reverse auction will work," said Giri Cherukuri, head trader at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois. "And the big question is, 'Will this bring us out of the woods?'"

A day after America's last two big investment banks, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, ended Wall Street's swashbuckling era by securing Federal Reserve approval to become commercial banks, all eyes shifted to Washington.

U.S. lawmakers and Bush administration officials were hammering out details of a deal they hope will end the worst U.S. financial crisis since the Great Depression.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke start two-days of congressional hearings on Tuesday to hasten approval of the bailout.

With the economy the No. 1 issue in a U.S. presidential election that is about six weeks away, lawmakers want a plan in place quickly, fearing delay could send markets reeling again.

But with one-third of the U.S. Senate and the entire U.S. House of Representatives up for re-election on November 4, lawmakers will want to sound tough on such hot-button issues as the pay of reckless executives.

"We are not sending a blank check to Wall Street," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after holding bipartisan talks.

With so many ideas being floated in Washington on Monday, one congressional aide who asked not to be identified likened the scene to a "Turkish bazaar of public policy ideas."

The crisis has unsettled world markets, and Group of Seven finance ministers and central bank heads promised "heightened close cooperation" to safeguard the global economy.

The latest jitters came after the deal late Sunday scrapped the investment bank model synonymous with Wall Street, ensuring Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley will avoid the fate of rivals that collapsed or were bought in the brutal meltdown of recent weeks.

Morgan Stanley went a step further, striking a deal with Japan's largest bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc, on Monday to spend as much as $8.5 billion for about one-fifth of the prestigious 73-year-old investment bank, sending Morgan's shares higher before closing down.

Anger at Bailout

After Monday's talks, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, a top Democrat, said the U.S. government would take equity in the companies seeking a bailout. But the U.S. Treasury is against that idea, sources close to Treasury told Reuters.

The White House said it agreed to an oversight board to monitor the bailout, which Democrats had pushed for. And Frank said there was also agreement that the plan should minimize the number of Americans who will lose their homes to foreclosure.

But lawmakers and Treasury officials were at odds on the emotional issue of whether executives at the companies in need of rescue must agree to limits to their compensation.

With details still in dispute, Frank said the legislation could take until next week to complete.

Earlier, U.S. President George W. Bush said, "Failure to act would have broad consequences far beyond Wall Street."

<p>Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson speaks during a taping of "Meet the Press" at the NBC studios in Washington, September 21, 2008.Alex Wong-Meet the Press/Handout</p>

But U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, voiced outrage at the notion of any bailout without a cap on executive pay.

"The (Bush) administration's plan ... would enrich the Wall Street executives whose reckless investments caused the financial crisis," the powerful California Democrat said. "The taxpayer is being asked to risk billions to protect the bonuses of investment bankers."

Even some Republicans came out against the bailout.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, said he feared the bailout was "neither workable nor comprehensive."

"It would be foolish to waste massive sums of taxpayer funds testing an idea that has been hastily crafted," he said.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, told Reuters after a meeting of fellow Senate Banking Committee members, "I suspect there will be opposition. We're not there. We don't even have a product yet."

South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint called the Bush plan "completely unacceptable."

Slideshow (12 Images)

The uncertainty caused stocks to lose most of the gains seen on Friday, when word of the plan sparked Wall Street's best one-day gain since 1987. The S&P 500 index dropped 3.8 percent.

Buoyed by the dollar's near 2 percent decline, U.S. crude oil futures soared $16.37 to settle at $120.92, the biggest ever jump in a trading session. At one point, oil was up a stunning $25.45, or 24.3 percent.

In a crisis that has lurched from issue to issue since the U.S. economy first showed weakness and home prices began to tumble last year, prompting a credit crunch and the collapse of investment banking, some wondered where it would end.

"The thing that scares me is the breadth of it," said Robert MacMahon, managing director for restructuring at GE Corporate Lending.

Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress, pushed for changes to the plan on concerns that it could expand the powers of the executive branch without adequate oversight -- a frequent Democratic criticism of the Bush administration.

Global Crisis

The crisis is threatening global markets. Central banks from Europe to Japan sought to shore up banks by injecting money into the banking system.. Even in the oil-rich Gulf region, the crisis was felt.

The United Arab Emirates Central Bank launched its first-ever emergency funding facility to help fund banks as global lending between institutions shriveled.

The Fed's agreement to convert the once high-flying Goldman and Morgan Stanley investment banks into more conventional depositary institutions was Washington's latest effort to restore calm to chaotic markets and avoid a deep recession.

Both Goldman and Morgan will now face a thicket of new regulations, which will bolster their resources but also curb the spectacular profit growth that made investment bankers among the highest paid in the nation.

The rescue came together after seismic shifts on Wall Street that saw Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc file for bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch & Co Inc agree to sell itself to Bank of America, and the Fed stage an $85 billion rescue of American International Group Inc.

AIG shares gained 23 percent on Monday on reports its investors were hatching a plan to prevent the insurer from falling into government ownership, by repaying the Fed's loan.

Goldman and Morgan Stanley were the last of the big five investment banks that shaped 20 years of Wall Street history after Bear Stearns collapsed earlier this year.

Reporting by Nancy Waitz, Tom Ferraro, John Poirier, Kevin Drawbaugh, David Lawder, Richard Cowan, Jeremy Pelofsky and Emily Kaiser in Washington; Kristina Cooke, Bill Rigby, Jason Szep and Richard Leong in New York; Jessica Hall in Philadelphia; Blaise Robinson in London; Editing by John Wallace, Jeffrey Benkoe

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