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Amid Bailout, Some Lawmakers Skeptical


Financial Socialism. Neither workable nor comprehensive. Stunning and unprecedented in its scope and lack of detail. Those are just a few examples of how skeptical lawmakers have described what could be the biggest financial bailout in American history. Among those expressing doubt today is Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who joins us now. Senator, welcome back to the program.

NORRIS: Michele, nice to be on. Thank you.

NORRIS: What's fueling your skepticism?

NORRIS: Well, people have been warning about this for some time, as early as 2001. And the administration really has not heeded any of these warnings. As late as 2007, when we asked Chairman Ber - we asked Secretary Paulson to intervene and move the government on some of the issues of subprime, he said things were going to work their way out by summer. And clearly they haven't. That was a year and a half ago. So now this is - he's now asking for $700 billion with - sort of with no rules. Just give me $700 billion. I'll let you know what I did with it. And there's going to be no blank check, for sure.

NORRIS: Now, you say that this is $700 billion with no strings. But there have been some additions made to the plan, including creating an independent oversight board, aid for homeowners facing foreclosure. Are there other things that you need to see to raise your comfort level?

NORRIS: The secretary of Treasury is going to hire several people, maybe several dozen people, to negotiate these troubled assets. And some of these people that are going to be doing the negotiating could very well end up in Wall Street a year or two from now or three months from now, when the Bush administration leaves office. So we certainly need protections against conflict of interest. We need - for sure we need some limit on executive salaries.

I'm getting literally thousands of calls and emails in my office. Almost nobody is supporting this, and almost everybody is particularly enraged by Wall Street bankers making - getting eight figure or $10 million and up kinds of bonuses and salaries, and we don't want to reward them. These people should pay not for purposes of vengeance, but simply because they helped to create this, and they shouldn't be rewarded for it.

NORRIS: Senator, there was this very interesting moment today when you directly asked Ben Bernanke and others if Wall Street owes taxpayers an apology. Provocative question - did you get a straight answer?

NORRIS: No, and I was - I respect Chairman Bernanke, but when his answer was, I don't think people in Middle America know how much Wall Street affects their lives - and to be sure, people absolutely in Middle America understand how Wall Street affects their lives - that's a big part of the reason. I mean, that's clearly one of the reasons that Middle America is hurting now, is because of the behavior of Wall Street.

NORRIS: Timing. You've been told time and time again by Henry Paulson and Chairman Bernanke that you need to move quickly. Will lawmakers take care of this before they go into recess?

NORRIS: I think we stay as long as we need to. I don't think there should be a time limit. This administration likes it this way. They like us to have to move fast and move in secret, and do it exactly their way. That's what happened with the Iraq War. Look at the consequences. That's what happened with the Patriot Act. We're not going to let it happen here.

NORRIS: You noted that you've been getting a lot of calls from your constituents. What are they saying?

NORRIS: People overwhelmingly oppose this. I think people are saying that - how are you going to right this ship without having the Bush-Cheney-McCain-Paulson Wall Street bias instead of looking out more for Main Street? And my goal is looking out for Main Street and looking out for the middle class in this package.

NORRIS: I heard an interesting phrase in your answer, the Bush-Cheney-McCain administration. Is that a fair assessment of this administration and the backing for this plan?

NORRIS: Well, so much of the root of this problem has been banking deregulation. And banking deregulation may have been brought to us by Dick Cheney and George Bush, but it was conceived by, in many cases, by Phil Gramm and John McCain. I mean, it was - it's their economic philosophy writ large on our society. And, you know, whether you want to put it with George Bush and Dick Cheney, or John McCain and Phil Gramm, or Henry Paulson, it's clear they're all singing off the same page, and it brings us situations like this, pure and simple.

NORRIS: Speaking there like a good Democrat, Senator?

NORRIS: It's also the truth.

NORRIS: Senator Sherrod Brown...

NORRIS: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: Thanks for being with us.

NORRIS: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: Sherrod Brown is a senator from Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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