Congress, regulators and leading figures in the Bush administration worked overtime this weekend and have crafted a compromise bill that apparently will be put to a congressional vote this upcoming week. A copy of the current discussion draft (which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says will be “frozen” in this form) that likely will be put to a vote this week can be found here.
At 110 pages, the current draft is significantly more voluminous than the initial three page draft Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson initially introduced last weekend.
As reflected in the bill’s summary (here), the “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008” not only provides up to $700 billion in funding to buy assets under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), it also authorizes the Treasury Department to modify troubled mortgage loans. The Act also requires companies selling assets to the government to provide warrants so that taxpayers benefit from the future growth of any company selling assets to the government. The Act also contains provisions relating to executive pay, as discussed below.
Finally, and by contrast to Paulson’s initial proposal, the Act provides for significant oversight and even for judicial review under certain circumstances.
The financial institutions able to take advantage of the Act include not only banks, but also any “savings association, credit union, security broker or dealer, or insurance company.” The assets that may be acquired include mortgage-backed assets created before March 14, 2008, a date apparently coinciding with the collapse of Bear Stearns. The Secretary, in consultation with other authorities, may also designate other assets to be included in the program.
The Act actually ranges far afield, particularly with respect to matters that historically have been viewed as internal or at most the province of state law. Section 111 of the Act specifies that when the government acquires a financial position in a participating institution, the Secretary of the Treasury “shall require that the financial institution meet appropriate standards for executive compensation and corporate governance.”
This section specifically provides that the standards for compensation and governance shall include “limits on compensation that include incentives for executive officers …to take unnecessary risks that threaten the value of the financial institution;” a “provision for the recovery by the financial institution of any bonus or incentive compensation … based on criteria that are later proven to be materially inaccurate;” and a prohibition on “golden parachutes.”
Congress apparently also wants to get into accounting practices and policy. In Section 132, the Act specifies that the SEC shall have the authority to suspend mark-to-market accounting under FASB 157. Section 133 of the Act requires the SEC to conduct a study of the effects and impacts of FASB 157.
In the days ahead, there undoubtedly will be further comment on the Act’s provisions (perhaps there will be further comment even on this blog). But more interesting than the Act’s provisions will be the Act’s practical effects. The purpose of the Act is to try to avoid financial catastrophe and to restore financial market functioning. The storm clouds that suddenly have appeared over a number of European banks, and the further questions involving U.S. financial institutions, serves as a reminder that the circumstances indeed are perilous.
In the days ahead as the Act is put to a vote, the question will be whether the ominous dynamic that has overtaken the financial markets finally relents. Unfortunately, as noted on the Real Time Economics blog (here), the economy may be in trouble regardless of the bailout.
Among other effects also to be watched include the impact on upcoming elections. The electorate is worried, uneasy, and will likely exhibit reactions across a wide spectrum. While the members of Congress may feel they had no choice with regard to the bailout bill, there may still be considerable voter backlash.