Commentary: Bailout Package Signed into Law; Economic Stimulus Still Needed

With the enactment of a $700 billion Wall Street bailout, or "financial rescue" package, prospects for success in stabilizing the nation's financial markets remain uncertain. Certain, however, is that deteriorating economic conditions that continue to put Americans on the unemployment rolls will remain unaffected by the implementation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). And despite over $100 billion in tax cuts included in the package, Congress failed to leverage even modest economic stimulus from the resulting jump in the federal budget deficit. If and when Congress returns to work for a lame-duck session after the elections, it should consider what steps to take next to improve the economy and aid those who have fallen victim to it.

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Congress Enacts Flurry of Legislation at Year's End

Congress tentatively adjourned for the year on Oct. 3 after passing a flurry of legislation to address the financial meltdown, extend expiring tax cuts, provide disaster relief funding, and fund the federal government through March 6, 2009.

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Free Market Ends as Washington and Wall Street Merge

Following a string of guarantees, buy-outs, and bailouts for various financial firms, Congress is now rushing to authorize the Treasury Secretary to spend $700 billion to bail out the rest of Wall Street. Since its role in the sale of investment bank Bear Stearns to rival J.P. Morgan in March, the federal government has intervened three times in the nation's financial markets by using taxpayer dollars to prop up the value of various private banking and mortgage entities. While taxpayers ought to be concerned about the sums of money involved in these transactions, a more fundamental problem exists: the bottom-line cost is anybody's guess.

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Key Tax Policy Items Remain Unresolved

Congress is scheduled to adjourn for the election season on Sept. 26, but a set of what many consider must-pass tax cut bills have yet to be sent to the president's desk. As differences between the House and Senate remain over offsets, and as a massive Wall Street bailout bill has grabbed the spotlight, final congressional approval of these measures before adjournment remains less than certain.

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Congress Returns with Little Time, Huge Workload

Congress returned to Washington the week of Sept. 8 to a jam-packed schedule and just three weeks left to complete work for the year before the target adjournment date of Sept. 26. Below is a brief summary of some of the major pieces of legislation covering fiscal policy issues that will likely be addressed:

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Congress Fails to Act on Tax Legislation as Clock Winds Down

Congress left town for the month-long August recess having failed four times to act on a popular package of tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of 2008. With only three weeks in session left in September before the door is expected to close on the 110th Congress, and with remaining differences between opposing sides, there is still significant work to be done before $123 billion in tax cuts can become law.

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Congress Struggles with Tax Bills ahead of July 4 Recess

In the dwindling days before the July 4 congressional recess, the House and Senate will try to break the longstanding logjams on three critical pieces of tax legislation: a proposal to approve a "patch" to hold constant the number of taxpayers liable to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), a bill to renew dozens of tax provisions collectively referred to as the "extenders," and the tax title of Rep. Barney Frank's (D-MA) Federal Housing Administration (FHA) foreclosure guarantee bill.

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President Bush: Veto Rhetoric vs. Fiscal Reality

Although Congress has not yet begun to consider any of the appropriations bills that will finance the federal government in FY 2009, the White House threatened to veto Democratic spending bills — even before any details were unveiled. With the flurry of veto threats late in his presidency, President Bush appears to be attempting to erase seven-plus years of reckless fiscal management of the federal government with token gestures that feign fiscal responsibility. Despite these recent actions, budget watchdogs say the Bush legacy on fiscal policy will be one of irresponsibility, inattention to detail, and futility.

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House Relentless in Pursuing Contracting Reforms

In the last several weeks, the House has continued its efforts to address federal contracting reform. With bills stalling in the Senate, the House has begun to attach various reform provisions to legislative vehicles that are more likely to be enacted into law this year. Marrying these proposals to the war supplemental bill and the Defense Authorization bill, for example, greatly increases the chances these important reforms will be implemented in 2008.

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House Foreclosure Legislation Meets GOP Ambiguity

Despite a worsening housing crisis across the country, Congress continues to move slowly to enact legislation intended to ease the burden for homeowners. On May 8, the House adopted comprehensive legislation (H.R. 3221) that would seek to reduce foreclosures in the face of an administration veto threat issued just days before. But Senate negotiations between the chair and ranking member of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee have gone on for weeks, with no deal in sight. Most members' eagerness to pass a bill to address the crisis before Memorial Day has thus far been thwarted by key GOP leaders in Congress and some in the Bush administration.

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