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Bailout Bill: The Latest Christmas Tree

Last week, as White House officials were making the rounds on Capitol Hill to sell their $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate banking committee, made a vow: “We will not Christmas-tree this bill with extraneous amendments.”

Right.

Last night, the Senate passed a modified version of the administration’s bailout, but not before they loaded it up with every bit of tinsel they could feasibly toss on.

This includes: billions in renewable fuel tax credits; billions in relief for families who would otherwise have to pay the alternative minimum tax next April; a tax credit for companies that promote bike commuting; a provision expanding insurance coverage for mental health services, and the list goes on. (Indeed, the original bailout bill was three pages long; the latest version is 451.)

Not that these things are necessarily bad policy steps — but of the $150 billion in new tax breaks, only $40 billion are offset (ie, this adds $110 billion to the country’s debt).

Those tax breaks are not a bad ploy for getting reluctant House Republicans on board. They, after all, were largely the reason a similar bill failed the lower chamber on Monday.

But it makes ridiculous those claims that the $56 billion House stimulus bill (think: Medicaid, food stamps, infrastructure and unemployment insurance) was a non-starter because, as the White House said in threatening a veto, it was too expensive.

Who said trickle-down economics died with Ronald Reagan?

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