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Rep. Barrett on the Bailout: Treat the Disease, Not Just the Symptoms

By Rep. Gresham Barrett
web posted September 29, 2008
GUEST COLUMN – My wife, Natalie, is always trying to make sure I eat right and exercise. She knows how fast paced and stressful it can be in Congress, and she’s seen me pick the french fries over the fruit too many times. If it wasn’t for her oversight and concern, I’d probably be a prime candidate for heart disease by now. But Natalie keeps me in check, and I am truly grateful for that.

I can’t help but think that if we had someone doing a better job keeping Wall Street in check, we wouldn’t be on the verge of an economic “heart” attack.  Clearly our economy needs treatment and fast, but I am concerned that some of my colleagues are rushing our economy to the operating room for major surgery without making sure that they are performing that surgery on the correct place or with the right tools.

This whole crisis started because our economy had been feeding on a steady diet of financial fast food called sub-prime mortgages. Essentially, banks were passing out irresponsible loans. They lowered their standards and increased the amount of money they were willing to loan with the hopes of turning a quick profit. Now, the plaque of bad banking has built up to the point where it has nearly flat-lined our financial heartbeat. Throw in mounds of credit card debt along with reckless government spending, top it off with record energy prices and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

No doctor worth his or her salt would encourage a patient with heart disease to eat more bad food in the hopes of getting better. So why should we accept a plan to treat our economic illness with a prescription of more debt – to the tune of $700 Billion in government borrowing?

I think it’s time for a second opinion.

The only reasonable long-term cure for what ails us is economic exercise. We have to start burning off the bad debt, and that means we need to start producing. It doesn’t matter if we produce cars, energy, computers, or intellectual property– what matters is that we start producing sooner rather than later. We need to start giving our economy the nutrition it needs to grow – sound investment and prudent lending.

But before we start flexing our economic muscles, there are a few things we must do first. We need to shore up our balance sheet. We must reduce our capital gains tax to encourage investment. We need to reduce our corporate taxes, which are among the highest in the world, and we must move towards energy independence.

Just as a traumatic health condition often lends an individual newfound perspective on life, we must learn from our economic mistakes and take the time to do the right thing to help our country grow in the long run.  It never feels good to start working out when you are out of shape.  It would probably be easier to give up, and just go on eating candy bars and fast food.  After all, huffing and puffing on the treadmill and going on a diet takes a lot of will-power, just like cutting spending at home and in Washington.  We need to step back, and see what has worked in the past and what has not.  While it may feel good to continue to gorge ourselves on easy solutions, we need to do what may be harder but healthier in the long-run.

In other words, we need to go in and perform some targeted “surgery” to stabilize the markets.  I believe in the free market system which has made our nation the most prosperous in the world. But the government does have a role in making sure the markets function properly by keeping them free of fraud and malfeasance. For example, we are familiar with the role the FDIC plays in insuring bank accounts, and I think we now have all seen what can happen when the regulators let situations spiral out of control.  We should actively explore options where the government can take a role in helping the credit markets find order. But we must allow the market to do the heavy lifting and provide more capital.

After we let the economy start pumping capital, we can go in and perform the much needed major surgery.  Make no mistake, Main Street is the heart of our economy, not Wall Street.  But Wall Street provides a valuable service to Main Street by directing capital to our businesses, large and small.  Changing Wall Street to better reflect the business practices and values of Main Street would be better for everyone.       

On a lighter note, I am happy to report that I do have a clean bill of health, and I am confident that if we make sensible changes to our economic diet while exercising our financial muscle, we can return our economy to good health.

SC Rep. Gresham Barrett is the Representative for the 3rd Congressional District.

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