Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Bailout plan must pass

Congress this week confronts a dilemma none of us ever wants to face, a choice between two distasteful, unpopular and potentially ruinous courses. The House of Representatives on Monday took the riskiest and we believe the unwisest course when a majority defeated the Bush administration’s $700 billion bailout of troubled banks. It will have another chance tomorrow, and all of us should pray that courage prevails.

It is worth noting that Arkansas’ delegation in the House, a Republican and three Democrats, voted for the package and in a remarkable show of unity issued a joint statement. When has that ever happened?

No one can be even vaguely confident that the bailout will work — that is, that it will restore enough liquidity in the banking system to break up the thrombosis in the credit market. If it doesn’t, we are headed for deep trouble indeed, all of us. Without credit, the American economy will grind to a standstill and so perhaps will the major economies of the world, which have absorbed part of our bad debts. We have had global recessions before, and two global depressions, and we do not want to go there.

So a vote for the bailout is a huge political risk for members of Congress who are running for re-election in five weeks. All of us, conservative and liberal alike, have a not wholly irrational horror of using our tax dollars to rescue men and institutions whose greed and carelessness put the country in such peril. The politically safer course is to vote no and hope that the disorder does not visibly worsen by Nov. 4, election day. Every member of Sen. John McCain’s home-state delegation and nearly all from George W. Bush’s Texas took the safer route and voted against their leaders.

For once we are convinced that we elect sturdier sorts in Arkansas. Their constituents are no happier about a financial bailout than Texans and Arizonans, although it doubtless helps that none of the four here has a serious race on his hands.

Whatever the chances are that the massive government purchase of bad debts will work, they are odds that any patriotic lawmaker ought to take. If the chances were only one in three that credit would be unlocked, it would be worth the risk. Who, after all, would thoughtfully choose the odds for a global depression?