Why the Bank Bill Should Pass

Nobody is happy with everything in the legislation.

Few days in the 27 years I’ve served in Congress were as remarkable as Monday. It’s not every day that Republicans second Barney Frank. It’s not every day that Democrats stand and cheer for Minority Leader John Boehner.

But Monday was a day of consequence. Crises have the power to unite us in strange ways, and on Monday, the true dividing line was between those who understand the high cost of doing nothing, and those who haven’t yet been convinced. I only hope that economic events won’t do the convincing for us.

I can’t think of a more dramatic vote than Monday’s, from the news of a tanking stock market that reached us on the floor, to the dead silence that fell across the chamber as the speaker gaveled the vote closed.

It’s been clear all along that a bill to stave off financial catastrophe would take the support of both parties, on both sides of the Capitol. House Democrats lived up to our end of the bargain: 60% of us voted for a financial rescue.

Many of us had significant reservations. But most Democrats were persuaded by economists who told us the dangers of inaction. And we were moved by stories of a credit crunch already starting to endanger families and small businesses. One senator spoke last weekend about a car dealer in small-town Utah who called his office to say, “I’m not going to be able to pay my employees next week. I can’t get the kind of credit line from the bank that I’ve had through my entire career unless you do something.”

That is why financial recovery legislation is still essential. On Monday, it failed on the House floor. But today we are bringing back a modified bill that has already passed the Senate — and we hope to pass it, as well.

It’s useful to consider the history of the recovery proposal, from its beginning as a merely three-page document proposed by the Bush administration, to the altered bill debated in the House and Senate. Legislative compromise may be messy to watch, but it significantly upgraded the recovery package.

The heart of the bill remains a plan for the government to buy up bad Wall Street assets, restoring the flow of necessary lending and cutting down on home foreclosures. But we fought to ensure that taxpayers will be the first to profit if and when those assets rise again in value — making the true price-tag nowhere near the widely reported $700 billion. Wall Street will also be obligated to pay the taxpayers back for its loan.

We restricted executive compensation, because CEOs whose recklessness helped bring on this crisis do not deserve taxpayer-subsidized golden parachutes.

The Treasury secretary’s spending decisions will be subject to strong oversight and judicial review.

Finally, the bill helps homeowners renegotiate their mortgages, to prevent a further flood of two million projected foreclosures that would devastate our communities.

After Monday’s vote, the Senate added a further provision raising federal insurance of bank accounts to $250,000 from $100,000, protecting more Americans from any potential bank runs. The Senate’s decision to add tax cuts is more controversial, because the cuts are not paid for and would add to the deficit.

Few of us, if any, are happy with every change. But Rep. Frank put it well: “If we aren’t prepared to accept some of the things we don’t like, we will not have the power to deliver for the people we care about.”

For me, those people are families unable to take out a loan to buy an appliance or pay for college; Americans who have worked their whole lives, only to see their retirement accounts threatened; and millions of workers fearing a pink slip they did nothing to earn.

In the long run, the only way to prevent a crisis like this from recurring is to look to the crisis’s roots. Because a failure of responsible regulation got us into this mess, we will work to restore sensible and effective oversight to our financial markets. And because record foreign borrowing and massive debt has shaken the world’s confidence in our financial system, we will put America back on the path of financial responsibility.

A vital bill may have been defeated Monday. But the danger isn’t going away until we join together, Democrats and Republicans alike, to solve the problem. There will be time to deal with the irresponsibility that caused this crisis — right now, though, it will take all of us to fix it.

Mr. Hoyer is House majority leader.

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