Bush Signs Bailout into Law

President Bush wasted little time Friday, signing into law a sweeping bailout package that passed a “second-try” vote in the House of Representatives earlier in the day. “By coming together on this legislation, we have acted boldly to prevent the crisis on Wall Street from becoming a crisis in communities across our country,” Bush said Friday. After two long weeks of re-negotiations, the real question is: what now? “We will move rapidly to implement the new authorities, but we will also move methodically,” said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, in a statement Friday. Paulson and his team said they plan to work with the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to develop strategies that efficiently deploy the tools made available to them by the rescue bill, in order for the U.S. Treasury to “continue to play its necessary and vital role in supporting the U.S. economy.” Those tools, by the way, are pretty much still an unknown; little is known about how the Treasury intends to price and buy the troubled assets, and little is known about which assets will be purchased from whom and which will not. Reiterating that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, Paulson spoke in generalities, and said the broad authorities in this legislation will give officials “the ability to protect and recapitalize our financial system.” Without a clear explanation as to what solutions may be implemented, the law, which ultimately may allow the Treasury to purchase and hold as much as $700 billion in troubled assets in a bid to kick-start lending, ushers in one of the most far-reaching interventions in the economy since the Great Depression. But Paulson stated that “transparency throughout this process will be important,” and said he plans to provide regular updates as strategies are implemented. “The enactment of this legislation should ease fears among the public and financial institutions that have created uncertainty and disruption in the credit markets,” said Sheila Bair, FDIC chairman, in a press release Friday afternoon. The bill will essentially complete a nationalization of the U.S. mortgage market: with the government’s seizure of twin mortgage finance gants Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) a few weeks ago, the bailout package essentially moves the government directly into the only market it didn’t already own — the market for private-party subprime and Alt-A mortgages and the securities they back. The House approved the $700 billion bailout plan in a 263-171 vote Friday morning, following the Senate’s approval of the bill in a 74-25 vote Wednesday evening. In the bill’s first go-around, the House rejected it. In a bid to appeal to reluctant House members, particularly House Republicans, the Senate wrapped up the whole package as an amendment to an existing mental health bill. The Senate then garnished the bailout bill with more than $100 billion in business tax breaks for research, development and employment of renewable energy sources. The enactment of this controversial bill into law will surely raise mixed emotions amongst Americans. It will also raise plenty of concern among industry insiders, based on what we’ve been hearing; HW will cover some of those concerns in future stories. Editor’s note: To contact the reporter on this story, email [email protected].

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