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Wall St. meltdown triggers blame game in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The meltdown on Wall Street rattling investors big and small is the centerpiece of a new election-year blame game in the Democratic-led U.S. Congress and in the race for the White House.

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, September 17, 2008. Wall Street tumbled to a three-year low on Wednesday as the U.S. rescue of insurer AIG failed to calm a crisis of confidence in global markets, leaving banks scared to lend to each other. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

After weeks of gut-wrenching government rescues of financial entities that could end up costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, politicians are taking shots at each other.

“This is a wholly owned problem in terms of its creation by the failed Bush policy, ... their anything-goes approach to our economy,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday.

Pelosi and other Democrats accuse the administration of Republican President George W. Bush of embracing industry deregulation at all costs and of failing to enforce regulations still on the books.

Meanwhile, members of both political parties have bashed the Federal Reserve for its surprise $85 billion bailout this week of the troubled insurance giant American International Group, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees corporate activity.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress say the White House has failed to adequately consult with them as the crisis has unfolded, while many say all sides should stop playing politics and focus on fixing the problem.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around,” Sen. Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican, told colleagues in a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday. “But this is not the time to point fingers. The American people want solutions,” Bond said. “We have to instill confidence in the public.”


Lawmakers admit they are not sure what the solution should be but Pelosi raised the prospect of trying to get a legislative remedy before Congress adjourns for the year.

“If we work together with the administration to do something before January, before the elections, all the better,” Pelosi told reporters.

But when asked about a Wall Street Journal editorial that said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had a proposal ready but has been spurned by lawmakers, Pelosi chafed, “You don’t know what it is and neither do I.”

Presidential candidate John McCain jumped into the blame game when he called for the firing of fellow Republican Chris Cox as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the president and in my view has betrayed the public’s trust,” McCain told a campaign rally in Iowa. “I would fire him.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said McCain and Bush are “completely deregulatory” and that maybe McCain should “ask that Bush be fired instead of Cox.”

At the White House, a spokesman said Bush backed Cox. Earlier, Bush sought to assure the public, saying: “We will continue to act to strengthen and stabilize our financial markets and improve investor confidence.”

In 1999, the then-Republican Congress passed legislation signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton that repealed a Great Depression-era law that prohibited banks from offering other financial services, like investments and insurance.

The new measure created other regulations on financial services, but Democrats complain Bush hasn’t enforced them.

“The Bush administration hates government. So anything connected to government they avoid,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

Reid also took aim at Phil Gramm, a former Republican senator from Texas who is now one of McCain’s fiscal advisers.

“It was Phil Gramm who pushed legislation through a Republican Senate that allowed firms such as Enron to avoid regulation and destroy the life savings of its employees, and it was Phil Gramm’s legislation that now has (allowed) Wall Street traders to bid up the price of oil, leaving us to pay the bill,” Reid said.

Republicans noted many Democrats backed the legislation.

Additional reporting by Donna Smith; editing by Todd Eastham