02 October 2008

New York Times on the Credit Crisis

Joe Nocera (and Andrew Ross Sorkin, Diana B. Henriques, and Edmund L. Andrews) come through today with a day-to-day account of the credit crisis, and how it's played out thus far.

The cliffhanger ending is below, but you really should read the entire piece:

Two hours later, Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke trooped up to Capitol Hill for a somber session with Congressional leaders. “That meeting was one of the most astounding experiences I’ve had in my 34 years in politics,” Senator Schumer recalled.

As the members of Congress and their aides listened, the two laid out their plan. They would begin offering federal insurance to money market funds immediately, in order to stop the run on money funds.

In addition, the S.E.C. would institute a ban on short-selling of financial stocks. Although Treasury officials concede that the move was mostly symbolic — investors can still buy put options that have the same effect as shorting stocks — they did it mainly “to scare the hell out of everybody,” as one official put it.

After Mr. Bernanke made his remark about the possibility that there might not be an economy on Monday without this plan, you could hear a pin drop.

“I gulped,” Mr. Schumer said.

Congressional leaders were nearly unanimous in saying that it needed to be done for the good of the country. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio — the Republican House leader who a week later would lead the revolt against the plan — said it was time to put politics aside and move quickly, according to several participants. (An aide to Mr. Boehner denied that he voiced support for the plan, only that he made a plea for cooperation.)

Hearing that Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Paulson wanted legislation passed in a matter of days, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, expressed astonishment. “This is the United States Senate,” he said. “We can’t do it in that time frame.” His Republican counterpart, Senator Mitch McConnell, replied, “This time we can.”

He was wrong. After a week of wrangling, political infighting and compromise, the House on Monday voted down the legislation. The Dow plunged nearly 778 points, and credit markets had worsened, with interest rates rising and loans becoming harder to obtain.

Two weeks after Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke made their appeal, the House is likely to try again.

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