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There is no 'bailout fund'

Section 210 of Chris Dodd's financial regulation bill (pdf) isn't what you'd call a gripping read. In fact, there's really no part of Dodd's bill that you'd call a gripping read. But Section 210, subsection (n), matters because it explains the workings of the "orderly liquidation fund," that $50 billion pot o' cash that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans have decided to call a "bailout fund."

Here's how the liquidation fund works: A year after the bill is signed, the secretary of the Treasury begins taxing banks based on the risk they pose to the financial system. This tax must raise $50 billion and last for at least five years but no more than 10 years. So first, that's where the fund comes from: a tax on too-big-to-fail banks, which has the added bonus of giving a slight advantage to smaller banks that won't be laboring under this tax.

When it comes to saving failing banks, $50 billion isn't a lot of money. Think of the $700 billion TARP fund. Or even look at the House bill, which has a $150 billion resolution fund. But then, the $50 billion isn't there to save banks. It's there to liquidate them.

Here's the chain of events: A bank is judged failing. The FDIC submits a plan for the bank's liquidation -- which includes firing management, wiping out shareholders, handing losses to creditors, and selling off the firm -- and gets it approved by the Treasury secretary. Then the FDIC takes over the banks. The $50 billion fund is used to keep the lights on while all this happens. It's there to prevent taxpayers from having to foot the bill for the chaos that will occur between when we recognize a bank is failing and when we shut it down.

Whatever you want to call this, it isn't a bailout. It's the death of the company. And the fund is way of forcing too-big-to-fail banks to pay for the execution. But stung by Republican criticisms, the administration is telling Democrats to let the fund go. And they're not all that unhappy to see it die. "The fund isn’t a priority for the Obama administration," reported Business Week, "which instead proposed having the financial industry repay the government for the cost of disassembling a failed firm, an approach preferred by the industry."

So let's just be clear: The alternative to the liquidation fund is Wall Street's preference. That should tell you pretty much all you need to know about whether the industry really views this as a bailout.

On the Senate floor yesterday, Bob Corker, who's been unfailingly respectful of his colleagues' criticisms of the bill, had enough. "This fund that’s been set up is anything but a bailout," he said. "It’s been set up to provide upfront funding by the industry so that when these companies are seized, there’s money available to make payroll and to wind it down while the pieces are being sold off." The only question, Corker said, was whether you pre-fund by taxing the banks, which is what the Republican head of the FDIC wants and the bill does, or whether you post-fund by recouping taxpayer losses after the fact, which the Treasury Department and the industry prefer.

That -- and not bailouts -- is the debate. And by demonizing it, Republicans will force Democrats to retreat to the post-funding structure that was the original preference of both the Obama administration and the financial industry. That's not really a strike against future bailouts, though it might be something you promised a roomful of bankers you'd do on their behalf.

By Ezra Klein  |  April 20, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Financial Regulation  
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Next: Tom Toles is worth a thousand words


What happens in, and to, the FinReg bill will decide whether America makes a hard right tack to becoming a full-on libertarian society run by Wall Street and big business. If that happens, I'm moving somewhere else ASAP. I'm starting to "warm up" to Canada.

Posted by: Lomillialor | April 20, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Maybe I'm just slow this morning, but I can't see the advantage *to the bankers* of post-funding over pre-funding of liquidations of financial firms.

I'm more inclined to believe that the banksters simply want the bill killed if at all possible, so Mitch "Sock Puppet" McConnell is simply throwing any bogus argument he can at the bill, and hoping one of them gets enough traction to bring it down, whether or not the banksters actually care about a given argument.

Posted by: rt42 | April 20, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Dodd's and the Democrats' premise is the problem. There is no business that is "too big to fail".

"Too big to fail" is the excuse used to pick winners and losers which is certainly anti-capitalistic.

Constructive destruction is necessary to make the free market system work. They go through bankruptcy and the assets are acquired by others who can manage them more efficiently.

But Obama et al are in charge. They will tell you who wins and who loses based not upon economics and who has been successful or not, but based upon their political strategy at the time.

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | April 20, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

You remember that TBTF and TARP was originally done by Bush, Paulson, etc, right? Bipartisan agreement on this doesnt make it right, of course, but it does suggest that people of both parties look into the abyss of totally destroying the financial system and decide against it.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | April 20, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Yet he's unwilling to be the Republican vote that lets the bill move forward.

Not sure what that says about the Republican party. Whatever it is, it isn't good.

Posted by: JERiv | April 20, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Does Sen. McConnell have a real philosophical difference here, or is this pure politics? And if so, what is the calculation - trying to sound populist?

Posted by: jduptonma | April 20, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

How does this differ from an outright bankruptcy? My impression is the end result is about the same, but this would be a more gradual process. Is that right? If so, I'd suggest focusing on why a different process is needed--presumably because ordinary bankruptcies are unlikely to cause panics and bank runs, while a large bank failure is??

Posted by: bharshaw | April 20, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

WrongfulDeath, you don't seem to understand the issue. Financial institutions are so big and interconnected with credit default swaps, and other derivative products, etc. that the govt can't allow a big one to fail. The ties to other big institutions will bring them down as well. When all the big boys go down, credit freezes and the economy goes over the cliff. The best solution is keeping banks smaller so that when 1 or 2 go down, the rest of the system doesn't collapse, but that is even more hated by banks. A fund to help unwind a big company that is failing is a tolerable fallback position. The govt isn't picking winners, its cleaning up the broken pieces of banks that fail. The govt didn't pick banks to fail, it is just trying to keep their failure from rippling through the rest of the fniancial system.

Posted by: srw3 | April 20, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

The Social Security Administration defines a Burial Fund as

"A burial fund is money set aside to pay for burial expenses. For example, this money can be in a bank account, other financial instrument, or a prepaid burial arrangement."


It seems only appropriate to give the
proposed entity the following title:

"Financial Sector Death Panel Burial Fund".

Posted by: tom76 | April 20, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

rt42, the "advantage *to the bankers* of post-funding" is that they don't have to cough up 50 billion to the govt up front. Period. They would rather have the govt on the hook for their screw ups. The would rather have corporate welfare than pay their own way. They would rather have a panic where the govt can't allow them to fold without collapsing the entire system than to have a process where they have to pay up front for any bank failures. Threatening the entire system is their way of holding the govt and economy hostage and forcing a bailout.

Posted by: srw3 | April 20, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

@jduptonma: There is no fundamental philosophical difference. The calculation is purely political, and the idea is that the base will support blanket opposition to Democrats, no matter what.

@srw3: "Financial institutions are so big and interconnected with credit default swaps, and other derivative products, etc. that the govt can't allow a big one to fail."

Well, if true (which is not established, merely insisted upon, most vociferously by Wall Street fat cats and their BFFs in Washington), then that's a bad system. An easy way to avoid To Big To Fail is to return to the day where an Insurance company sold insurance, a bank did banking, and an investment firm did investments. Crazy, I know.

@Ezra: "You remember that TBTF and TARP was originally done by Bush, Paulson, etc, right?"

You do remember that most conservatives were dubious if not outright hostile to the TBTF argument, and to TARP, right? Bush was not exactly the ideal conservative. The fact that Bush advanced amnesty is not a compelling argument for amnesty to most conservatives, either. :)

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | April 20, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, as I understand it the benefit to industry of post-funding is that there's not likely to be any money left over to pay back the FDIC in a post-funded failure. With pre-funding, however, the banks are out $50 million up front.

I'm curious about what the 10-year limit means. Will there be no fund after 10 years, or do they just have to refund the money collected and then retax the main players at that time?

WrongfulDeath, there's no such thing as "Too Big to Fail". There *is* such a thing as "Too Big to Fail Without Doing Massive Damage to the Entire Economy". We should let bad businesses fail, but we can't afford to allow the entire economy to collapse because a few bad firms are massively connected to the entirety of our system.

Like with disease, we should take every preventative step possible to avoid infection, whether that means regulating derivatives or capping the size of financial institutions or whatever, but once an infection has broken out, we need structures in place to stop the disease from spreading. So in addition to our preventative measures we set up systems to slow a failure down to avoid it pulling other actors down with them. This isn't picking winners and losers. It's containing the failure to the losers.

Posted by: MosBen | April 20, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Hey Kevin, I am all for separating commercial banking from investment banking from insurance. Let's bring back glass steigel(sp). But that is not in the cards it seems.

Posted by: srw3 | April 20, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Calling it a bailout fund is absolutely pure politics by the Republicans, a shameless, willful lie just as much as "death panels" or "pulling the plug on grandma" was for health care. They are just making stuff up, and hoping that endless repetition will cause action. Unfortunately it worked--rather than calling them out on the lie, the liquidation fund has been removed.

It's unfortunate on many levels: that the Republicans can lie so easily about something so important--that they're willing to put party over country, and politics over truth EVERY DAMN TIME; that the public is so easily duped by simplistic talking points; and that the Democrats won't call them out on their intentional deceit of the public because they also think the public is too dumb to understand the details.

The same thing happened with healthcare and we ended up with a weaker bill because of these falsehoods.

Posted by: TimothyJ1 | April 20, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Kevin, how about a derivatives tax to do try to discourage "frivolous" trading in these instruments, focusing on naked futures traders. I would also go for a transactions tax for day and computer trading, to discourage speculating and microarbitrage.

Your thoughts? Don't let a good crisis go to waste....

Posted by: srw3 | April 20, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

@srw3: "Let's bring back glass steigel(sp). But that is not in the cards it seems."

I don't remember hearing about banks being Too Big to Fail before Glass-Steagall. And, as I recall, the S&L crisis was precipitated by a deregulatory amendment to Glass-Steagall, the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act.

I'm a conservative. I often favor the old, proven-to-work things over the new, we're-smarter-than-thousands-of-years-of-human-history things. Glass-Steagall performed. Rather than a whole bunch of new crap to fix all the problems created by taking away the old regulations that clearly worked, why not reinstitute the stuff that is proven to work?

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | April 20, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

A typical Wapo liberal who thinks facts matter.

Posted by: posttoastie1 | April 20, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

A recent analysis has determined that commercial real estate values have dumped 42% in the past year.

Eventually that figure is going to produce many dead bodies in the financial industry when extend and pretend can't work anymore.

A $ 50 billion fund for whatever purpose is going to be peanuts. This hoax is nothing but a pre-midterm election political maneuver.

Posted by: bandcyuk | April 20, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

The financial reform bill will pass, because it's needed regulation of an "industry" (read speculators) and protects main street America. But look at the performance of Republicans, driven by a desire to obstruct Obama and Congress. McConnell tells the nation an outright lie about "bailouts" - whoops, now he's beginning the old backtrack. New Senator Scott Brown is incoherent on national TV about what the legislation means, and makes up all sorts of "job loss" figures that don't exist. (He's a piece of work, troubling for Massachusetts.) Then there's old Olympis Snowe, living on the Fence of Moderation, always waiting to fall off on the No side.

But they look less than formidable on this one. Save us from Wall Street, or Republicans..?

Posted by: dudh | April 20, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Many of our Republican Congress people ought to carry a fire extinguisher. One never knows when their pants might burst into flame. As when they talk.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | April 20, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Once again, we get a set of incoherent arguments from the Republican party. Their primary objective is to confuse the electorate into believing the obverse of the truth. They get their talking points from a political consultant and start pounding with a care for the validity of the argument as long as it hangs a negative on the opposition. They will do this on any bill or any issue, no matter the gravity of the problem.

So much for loyal opposition and integrity.

Sadly, the public at large is often fooled into thinking that both sides do this in equal measure. That's why 80% of Americans distrust their government. It is a mistake, however, to say that both sides are equally guilty. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that pettiness and fact-free arguments (while one can find examples on both sides) are today synonymous with the Republican brand.

Posted by: sdavis3398 | April 20, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

It's not a bailout fund, it's funeral insurance.

So that if a bank dies, we can use the insurance to pay for burial costs.

The other alternative is to leave it on the sidewalk to spread plague to everyone else ("let it fail!"). Or to spend a fortune so we can go all "Weekend at Bernie's" on the bank, pretending it's still alive so the VIPs can stay at Bernie's awesome beach house.

It's the best option. Let the bank die, and make the bank pay its own funeral expenses.

Posted by: theorajones1 | April 20, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Well kevin, we are in agreement about separating commercial banking, from insurance, from investment banking anyway...Seems like an easy to understand fix for the financial industry problems. Still, some kind of enhanced regulation and revenue generation from derivatives trading seems like it needs to be part of the picture.

Posted by: srw3 | April 20, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

just call it what it is...

an Obama Cronies Crooks and Liars SLUSH FUND!

Posted by: Obama_TRAITOR_in_Chief | April 20, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse


There is too big to fail, and there is too big in general. Lehman Brothers was too big to fail because when it did, it brought the DOW down almost 2000 points. Had the other major banks followed, the DOW would have dropped even lower, destroying many, many 401ks and pensions.

Posted by: pathfinder12 | April 20, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Clear something up for me. Corker and Dodd are supposed to be very close on this bill yet Corker was on Morning Joe ripping the bill as "anything but a slap at Wall Street" Corker claims that Wall Street will celebrate if this bill passes and that there are untold problems with this bill. That does not sound close to me. Maybe his boys don't like the fact that one of their pack is getting close to accomplishing something. Watch out Bobby your getting close to representing the people that put you in office. You don't want to do what they elected you to do now do you?

Posted by: jerseydevil | April 20, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Abolish all derivative trading between parties who have no skin in the underlying securities. It is simply insane to permit this.

Posted by: SqueakyRat1 | April 20, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

By the way, very nice clear explanation of the fund and debunking of the Republican lies.

Posted by: SqueakyRat1 | April 20, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

The "bailout" funded by the banks is a great idea BUT :1 allows for riskier investments knowing that its there. (like a kid that keeps getting bailed out but parents) 2. No financial institution should become "too big to fail" . Aren't there laws disallowing such huge conglomerations??
Those would be my non selling points to the "bailout".

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Posted by: kristiwarsha | April 20, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

TREASURY SECRETARY TIM GEITHNER: “A Standing Fund Would Create Expectations That The Government Would Step In To Protect Shareholders And Creditors From Losses.” (Financial Services Committee, U.S. House Of Representatives, Hearing, 10/29/09)

Posted by: iculus | April 20, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

FORMER CLINTON LABOR SECRETARY ROBERT REICH On The Dodd Bill: “Yes, It Preserves The Possibility That The Fed Could Launch Another Bank Bailout.” (Robert Reich, “The Republican Strategy On Financial Reform: Make Democrats Look Like Patsies For Wall Street,” The Huffington Post, 4/13/10)

Posted by: iculus | April 20, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm not opposed to a derivative tax. For one thing, it's a consumption (or usage) tax. I don't want to pay the onerous tax? I just don't trade in derivatives. But I also think it would be important to encourage transparency and accurate ratings. And avoid financial instruments that are essentially created to, or can easily be use to, obfuscate the real value of what is ostensibly being purchased.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | April 20, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

you need $50 billion to keep the lights on? that's starting to make Al Gore's electric bill look reasonable.

Posted by: iculus | April 20, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

@Kevin Willis: I'll take your word for it that conservatives were hostile to the TBTF idea and TARP, but according to Andrew Sorkin's book of the same name --TBTF-- when our political leaders were ushered into a room in mid September 2008 and given the facts by Henry Paulson, the first senator to agree to TARP funding was none other than Senator McConnell of Kentucky. The impression I got from reading about the scene was the good senator was so spooked he was lucky he didn't soil himself.

But now he's against bailouts!

Posted by: timholman | April 20, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

kristiwarsha: "The 'bailout' funded by the banks is a great idea BUT :1 allows for riskier investments knowing that its there. (like a kid that keeps getting bailed out but parents)"

The fund is not a "bailout" fund. It provides the means to wind down large institutions that have become insolvent. The bank gets shut down and sold off. Management gets wiped out. Shareholders get wiped out. So it's not at all like a parent indulging an irresponsible kid.

Posted by: dasimon | April 20, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

The whole point of the Dodd bill is that there is no business to big to fail, Wrongful Death, but it costs money when they do...and I am not talking about "bail outs"!!! The purpose of the $50 billion is to make the giant corporatists buy their own coffins with money that otherwise would go to the "golden parachutes" they love so much and real capitalists hate so much!

You're gotch-eyed about big government policy toward big business, aren't you? Where where you when Ronald Reagan dismantled AT&T when it was the biggest business in the world--for fear of its "too big to fail" status and its anti-capitalist mondus operandi...hence the Baby Bells which are now getting back together. Your problem, Wrongful Death, is that you don't know your history or economics.

For the first time in a long time big government (Dodd) is not going to let "Big Business" write its own anti-competition, pro-monopoly protectionist legislation. He is standing in the way of your plutocratic, oligarchic, corporatist Republican Party's National Corporate Security Statist's agenda.

If you believe in free market (there is no actual free market system and never has been) capitalistic competition--you probably don't--you should be cheering the Dodd approach. It fits right in with Adam Smith's thinking.

Posted by: harleyj | April 20, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, Ezra - the more I read your articles the more I worry. If you're looking for change; it is happening as we speak and it's very, very dangerous for all Americans(including you.)

Study the AIG problems, read about bonuses and not mentioning the companies that AIG insured and then try again to write this article. Little T-Boca

No one, absolutely no one should be taking tax payers money unless we as a Nation agree that it is in the best interst of our country.

The money that has been tossed out the back door and slid under the table since the beginning of 2009 is totally disgusting and illegal.

Our bail out money should have been spent creating jobs and helping with the housing bubble, but it wan't and don't mention the defunct programs Obama initiated such as HAMP; they were merely smokescreens to keep all of us quiet.

We trusted a man who is incapable and incompetent - not a leader.

Posted by: tboca | April 20, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans in the Senate and Congress have boxed themselves in a political corner, by their negative tactic of saying "No!" to every piece of legislation the Democrats put forward!

Now, the Republicans have no choice but to support the Bank Bailout legislation, or be seen by the public as siding with the Banks to create another economic meltdown!

A 'No!'vote by Republican senators and House members can no longer be sustained!

The Democrats must not waterdown their bill to suit Republicans. They did so for the Healthcare Act, by leaving out the public option to gain Republican support. It never came! The American public was the loser because of Republican negativity!

Let the Republicans continue with their malicious and destructive ideology, of "We want Obama to fail." The opposite has been the case!

President Obama and American economy are succeeding WITHOUT Republican support!

President Obama and a Democratic Congress have designed a number of smart economic policies and strategies that are moving our economy out of recession into recovery, with NO Republican support!

It has taken the United States just 18 months to change the economy around! It took the Japanese 12 years to reach the same point!

Productivity has grown at a rate of about 7% in last three quarters- the largest rise in productivity over three quarters in more than 50 years!

US exports have risen from $121.7 billion dollars in April 2009, to $142.7 billion dollars in January 2010!

The Recovery Act has been a great success, and has created about 2 million jobs nationally.

President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have all demonstrated, great leadership, in a crisis situation! They have delivered when their country needed them to do so!

President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have displayed great boldness, courage, and decisive action!

Republicans in the Senate and House have shown cowardice, destructive and malicious negativity, the likes of which, has never been seen in Congress before, and during a time of economic crisis for our nation!

Posted by: stephendelsol | April 20, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

just call it what it is...

an Obama Cronies Crooks and Liars SLUSH FUND!

Posted by: Obama_TRAITOR_in_Chief | April 20, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

If the word "no" needs to be spoken, it's to the financial empire that like a phoenix rose from the ashes due to the benevolence of the American taxpayers. As such we ought to get to call the shots when it comes to the terms of the creation of the bankrupcy liquidation fund. The banks need to pay it on the head end while they've got it, not after they go bust and we have to figure out how to wring it out of them. Let's look at it as a cost of doing business, and from last reports, they're back to doing a very good business.

Posted by: sober1 | April 20, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

What does it matter whether it is called a 'liquidation fund", or a 'bailout fund", no matter what, it is a 'bailout' because a failing company can stay afloat longer because they will be able to run their assets into the ground because the taxpayers will provide $50 billion to cushion the blow.

It is better that they fail as soon as possible, and let the chips fall where they may.

Posted by: sheldonhall2 | April 20, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

This plan sounds to me exactly like what the FDIC is doing now. An example is Indymac Bank. The bank failed and was taken over by the FDIC and renamed Indymac Federal Bank, then after a short time a new privately owned bank, One West Bank. took over it's assets and the depositors accounts are now in One West Bank.
Will Ezra, or someone else, please explain how this proposal differs from what the FDIC already does.

Posted by: berndash | April 20, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

sheldonhall2: "What does it matter whether it is called a 'liquidation fund, or a 'bailout fund'"

It doesn't matter what it's called, but it does matter what it is. A bailout means the firm will continue to exist. Liquidation means the firm will be extinguished, the management gone, the shareholders wiped out. The latter is probably not desired by either management or shareholders, but that's their fault for getting themselves into trouble in the first place.

"they will be able to run their assets into the ground because the taxpayers will provide $50 billion to cushion the blow."

No, the legislation calls for a fee on the banks for the fund that will cushion the blow. The whole point is to prevent a situation where taxpayers will have to intervene again.

"It is better that they fail as soon as possible, and let the chips fall where they may."

Yes, as long as the "chips" don't bring down the entire economy and ruin it for the rest of us. The point of the liquidation fund is to allow firms to fail in an orderly manner so as to minimize the effect on the rest of the economy.

Posted by: dasimon | April 20, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

@ berndash, thank you, my question exactly. For real banks, i.e. depositary institutions, the FDIC already does this and well. Banks fail on Friday and on Monday they re-open deposits having been taken over by another bank. For investment banks masquerading like banks, the problem is not winding them down, it's the sudden loss of credibility as a counterparty (since it is suddenly clear they're insolvent) which reverberates through the system. The "liquidating" fund does nothing to stop that.

Posted by: bjwl43 | April 20, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the "Too big to fail" banks and brokers should be broken up, just as AT&T was years ago. Certainly would give the public more choices, and add a little competition into both fields.

Obviously, those against it will distort the purpose of the fund, It seems to be "Death Panels" all over again.

Posted by: atc333 | April 20, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Thanks you for saying what my television has so far been unwilling to say. That this is not a "bail-out" it's a "bankruptcy" and a "liquidation". Big difference. At least you are calling it what it is. This is just another example on the pile of examples of Republican BS based on making taffy out of semantics, with the loyal help of a (liberal?!?) media.

Posted by: Davol | April 21, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

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