The Arizona Republic reports:
Sen. John McCain of Arizona … says he was misled by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. McCain said the pair assured him that the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program would focus on what was seen as the cause of the financial crisis, the housing meltdown.
“Obviously, that didn’t happen,” McCain said in a meeting Thursday with The Republic’s Editorial Board, recounting his decision-making during the critical initial days of the fiscal crisis. “They decided to stabilize the Wall Street institutions, bail out (insurance giant) AIG, bail out Chrysler, bail out General Motors. . . . What they figured was that if they stabilized Wall Street – I guess it was trickle-down economics – that therefore Main Street would be fine.”
McCain isn’t the only one to say that Paulson was doing a bait-and-switch.
The TARP Inspector General found that Paulson misrepresented the too big to fail banks’ health in the run-up to passage of TARP.
Congressmen Brad Sherman and Paul Kanjorski and Senator James Inhofe all say that the government warned of martial law if TARP wasn’t passed (Inhofe says Paulson was the one doing the talking).
And Paulson himself has said:
During the two weeks that Congress considered the [TARP] legislation, market conditions worsened considerably. It was clear to me by the time the bill was signed on October 3rd that we needed to act quickly and forcefully, and that purchasing troubled assets—our initial focus—would take time to implement and would not be sufficient given the severity of the problem. In consultation with the Federal Reserve, I determined that the most timely, effective step to improve credit market conditions was to strengthen bank balance sheets quickly through direct purchases of equity in banks.
So Paulson knew “by the time the bill was signed” that it wouldn’t be used for its advertised purpose – disposing of toxic assets – and would instead be used to give money directly to the big banks. But he didn’t tell Congress before they voted to approve the TARP legislation.