The Financial Patriot Act

What's this?  Congress is putting up resistance over the $700 billion bailout?

They're not 100% willing to take Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson at their word that they have everyone's best interests in mind?  Our representatives are actually skeptical that if they don't swallow this scheme lock, stock, and barrel, "the economy will just not be able to recover in a normal, healthy way," as Bernanke threatens?

Granted, as Barron's columnist Alan Abelson has noted, whatever Congress does to the bailout package will almost surely make a bad thing worse.  But look at it this way: At least Congress is doing something, anything, to assert its Constitutional authority on this score.  It's a darn sight better than last week, when the hacktastic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid more or less punted all responsibility to Bernanke and Paulson because, well, they just know a lot more about all this complicated stuff.

Paulson's conduct has been especially egregious, to wit, the provision in the bill that denies courts the authority to review whatever actions he takes under cover of this legislation.  As Nouriel Roubini points out, "He's saying, `Trust me, I'm going to do it right if you give me absolute control.' This is not a monarchy.''

Ah, but it is a "unitary executive" these days, and what is this assertion of Paulson's authority other than another manifestation of the executive branch's expansive view of its powers when the nation is stressed by extraordinary circumstances?  Orders to torture some hapless prisoner at Gitmo?  Orders to bail out another insurance company?  Hey, it's all the same.  Ends justify the means.

Really, how much difference is there between the bailout bill and the Patriot Act?  In both cases, the administration has tried to ram the legislation through Congress before lawmakers could even read the bill, claiming if they didn't act immediately, it would mean certain disaster.

Well, there is one difference.  Much of the Patriot Act had been sitting on the shelf for years, crafted by career civil servants at the Justice Department during the Clinton Administration, or maybe even earlier, just waiting for the right opportunity to seize upon public fear to enact their schemes into law.  But the bailout bill was thrown together at the last minute by career civil servants at Treasury and the Fed reacting in sheer panic to events they never foresaw.  Believe me, the crowd that floated the ill-conceived, dead-on-arrival "Super-SIV" a year or so ago couldn't have been waiting for months to spring the present monstrosity on an unsuspecting public.

I don't know if that makes me feel any better about it, though. 

The Daily Reckoning