Easter comes late on the calendar this year, and with Easter comes the annual tradition of rerunning the religious epics of the 1950s. Lavish and overproduced, these spectacles often show harrowing depictions of the bread and circus festivals of ancient Rome.
Washington has eschewed the gorier trappings of bread and circuses, but make no mistake. The tradition is alive and thriving. Remember the stimulus checks doled out after tax season last year?
We were treated to another festival last week, as Congress vexed, pontificated, and threatened dire consequences for the loss of taxpayer funds to the greedy black maw of AIG. Of course, Congress has to be loud about this, because they want us to ignore the elephant in the corner of the room. The bonus scandal is not AIG’s fault, or the fault of any of the other financial predators who will come under scrutiny in the weeks to come. The fault lies with Congress.
Congress rarely acts quickly, but $700 billion was appropriated in an instant last fall in a hastily-made decision of immense magnitude. Mistakes were made, and billions were doled out with few strings attached. How could anyone possibly be surprised that taxpayer money was used to fund the enormous bribes that, we are assured, prevent financial sector employees from fleeing, en masse, to better-paying competitors?
At least a portion of the bonuses appear to be contractually obligated, which should have mandated guidelines for use of the TARP. Hank Paulson came from Wall Street. Was he not paying attention? Worse yet, the legislation was drafted with a back door that prevents recouping the bonuses, a point hammered home last week by Christopher Dodd’s frantic backpedaling about his role in the debacle.
Congress is now directing its self-serving outrage at private sector compensation, setting a precedent to regulate incomes by taxing the bonuses into non-existence. Legislation to that effect passed the House last Thursday. If we allow them to continue down this path, we have only ourselves to blame for the consequences. Remember, these are the same people who are fundamentally incapable of addressing issues related to their own compensation, such as term limits, curbs on lobbying, and campaign finance reform.
Enough is enough. Before Congress feeds our future to the lions, they should focus on something they have proved they can handle. Like finding a wolf to guard their chicken coop.