Listening to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson testify before the Senate Banking Committee, I’m marveling at his insistence to Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, former HUD secretary, that “I welcome oversight.”
Martinez is leading Paulson through a kind of call-and-response interaction that has become the hallmark of congressional hearings during the Bush administration: Republicans lob softballs at the witness, setting up the opportunity for the most sanguine, sane-sounding interpretation of the insupportable policy being defended by a representative of the administration.
In soft, soothing tones, Martinez prompts Paulson to assure the panel he welcomes, even yearns for, oversight and transparency in this process. And of course, that this plan is the best of all possible plans to save the nation from economic free-fall.
Meanwhile, in the world of reality-based thinking, Section 8 of the three-page document justifying Treasury’s request for $700 billion to rescue Wall St. says:
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.
Read it carefully. This astonishing formulation inoculates Henry Paulson from any judicial or legislative scrutiny and transfers enormous authority to a member of the executive branch, as Jason Linkins points out on Huffington Post.
Robert Kuttner, writing on The American Prospect’s Web site, puts it powerfully:
When you think about it, Hank Paulson is about the last person in America who should be entrusted with this emergency infusion of public capital — because his perspective is entirely that of the bankers who created the mess in the first place. Paulson is treating the U.S. Treasury as a branch office of Wall Street.