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Not just a blank check

The Bush administration is pushing for swift approval of its unprecedented bailout of America's financial industry. As details of the proposal emerged over the weekend, Democratic and Republican members of Congress raised concerns about the extent of the taxpayers' potential liability - up to $700 billion - and the need to build in some accountability. They are right to be concerned, because the bailout will likely be managed for the most part by whoever wins the November election. And no one knows who will lead the key departments that will be overseeing the restructuring.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has cautioned congressional leaders against loading up the bill with lawmakers' preferred options that could undermine the authority needed to carry out this complex rescue plan. This is unchartered territory, but there still should be ways to relieve the burden on homeowners threatened by foreclosure.

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The big financial houses that traded in risky securities for maximum profit can't be the only beneficiaries. Wall Street executives shouldn't be rewarded for their greed and bad decisions with bonuses and unseemly severance packages - not as long as thousands of Americans continue to face the loss of their homes over their own misjudgments and excessive borrowing. Rep. Barney Frank's proposal to have the Government Accountability Office audit and oversee the program would offer a measure of oversight.

The government's takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could help facilitate aid for homeowners facing foreclosure. These institutions have the experience and expertise to evaluate mortgages and propose reasonable repayment plans.

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In Maryland and other states, teams of lawyers and housing counselors are helping homeowners in trouble. Negotiating reasonable mortgage rates for borrowers to remain in their homes would help keep communities from becoming no man's lands of foreclosed property.


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