Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Power of the Purse

Please don't miss the Debt Rattle, April 2 2008

Ilargi: Karl Denninger is getting really serious these days. According to him, it's time for Americans to put up or shut up. The Automatic Earth is based in Canada, not in the US, so we are somewhat on the sidelines when it comes to the issues Karl has been addressing lately with so much vehemence.

Still, since many of our readers are in the US, one thing we can do is to provide them with his latest article on what he sees as his country going to the dogs. And what those same readers can do in turn is to sign Karl's petition to turn back the Bear Stearns deal at

"Off The Reservation"?

There are probably a few of you wondering what sent me "Off The Reservation" earlier today, and why I locked the forum down to all but Gold members for a day (tomorrow, 4/2.)

No, it wasn't because the DOW went up 391 points. Remember, we had two more of those in the last three weeks.

It is simply this folks: The power of the purse is the first, last and greatest power that any government has. It is effectively the power to TAX, because spending must be paid for in some fashion - either by taxing or issuing debt.

This power is explicitly reserved to Congress - specifically The House of Representatives, set forth in Article 1 Section 9 and formalized in The House over time.

While there is much to say about the abuse of that power over the years and the influence of lobbyists and other bad things, the fact remains that once you lose the power of the purse all else soon follows.

It is one thing for Congress to delegate that power for some period of time, for some specific purpose, or in some other way to some other part of the government.

It is an entirely different matter when a government actor or agency, or worse, a quasi-government organization such as The Fed, arrogates to itself this power.

The latter is the most serious of matters and in fact rises to the level of a Constitutional Crisis.


Because once you lose this power you NEVER GET IT BACK.

If we allow this as a nation we will never again have the power of the purse held where it belongs under our Constitution, which is SOLELY in the United States Congress, specifically, in the US House.

Let me put this in a different light and ask you how you'd feel about it:

Tomorrow, the TSA decides that there is a "heightened risk" of an imminent terrorist attack. As a consequence they decide they need to spend $100 billion dollars immediately on new equipment and people, and in fact they commit those funds immediately. Of course there is no time for Congress to pass a bill authorizing this.

Next week, The Army Corps of Engineers decides that New Orleans requires new levees, and in addition, that Tampa has a high risk of flooding if they do not have a seawall constructed around Tampa Bay. They decide to commit $200 billion dollars immediately to rectify this. After all, hurricane season is coming and there is no time to get Congress to pass a bill.

The week after that......

Get it yet?

Think this can't happen?

The hell it can't!

The hell it won't!

We live in a Constitutional Republic. The United States is NOT a Democracy. You wouldn't want to live in a true democracy; in one minorities have no rights, as just one example.

That Constitutional Republic has a very specific delineation of powers.

Note that right now we have a RAGING debate over The War In Iraq.

Many in this nation think we made a huge mistake going into Iraq. Others think it was the right thing to do. But both sides, thus far, are respecting The Constitution and, despite the objections of some, every appropriation of funds for that war has in fact gone through Congress as is required.

Let's take just one small piece of the wartime debate - The Homeland Security Act. To some, a damn good thing. To others, over-reaching but acceptable. To still others, an outrageous invasion of privacy and personal freedom.

Where you sit on this particular issue in your political beliefs is not the point.

The point is that the bill was in fact introduced and debated, then passed through Congress, and it made its stop in Appropriations where the money was allocated by The House in order to implement the law.

You may disagree with the outcome, but the black letter of Constitutional Principles were followed. The law as passed was properly constructed and funded.

How would you feel if George Petraeus were to decide that he needed $500 billion more for the War and just spent it without a vote or even consideration by Congress?

What if "Homeland Security" was simply implemented by George Bush as he saw fit, with his "Homeland Security Czar" arrogating to his "new responsibility" $500 billion dollars from the Treasury?

Is that ok?

Well, if you don't do whatever is necessary to reverse what happened with Bear Stearns and mete out punishment for that blatant violation of our Constitution, you WILL wake up one day to find out that some General in Iraq, or some Homeland Security person, or some other agency or arm of government just decided to pick your pocket and spend without the appropriation of those funds by Congress, effectively legislating without ever seeing the chambers of the House or Senate!

It is INEVITABLE that if we do not step up right here and now that this will happen again.

And again.

And again.

The line must be drawn here and now.

If we fail to do so we may as well flush one of the remaining pieces of our Constitutional Republic down the toilet, and cede to a "New World Order" in which you can and WILL be taxed without a vote and without representation of any sort and where laws will be imposed by fiat of the executive whenever they damn well feel like it without the prior approval, debate and consent of Congress.

Remember that 230-odd years ago we went to war over this EXACT issue - taxation without representation. The British King saw fit to spend and tax the colonists as he saw fit without any sort of redress to or vote by the colonists, and to impose laws via unitary decision, with the costs of implementation forcibly extracted from the Colonists' wallets.

The end result was The American Revolution.

We were fortunate in that the brave men who understood that responsibility were honest and not particularly interested in personal self-aggrandizement. History strongly suggests that our Founding Fathers were somewhat of a historical aberration, in that most of the time when a society finds itself under extreme duress it usually ends with someone more akin to Adolph Hitler than Jefferson, Madison or Hamilton figuring out what the government should look like.

It is critical that we the people do not permit this usurpation of power to stand, and insist that the power of the purse be restored to where it belongs - solely and exclusively in the hands of Congress.

Should we fail to do so it is a virtual certainty that three, five or ten years hence you will think back about this very issue and this Ticker and realize in horror what you could have prevented, but didn't.

Let us remember that this power to "raid" the public purse has never been wisely used in the past. From Germany prior to WWII on down to the present day, we have never seen a public official that is anywhere close to accurate on their "estimates" as to the fiscal damage from their programs.

Most of you remember the Medicare Part D debate. It was quoted at one number, then another, then another in terms of cost. After it was passed and signed we found out that those numbers were radically underestimated and the cost would be several times greater than we were told - but it was already law.

Some of you remember Ben Bernanke on The Hill giving what used to be called "Humphry-Hawkins" testimony last spring and summer, in which he said that the subprime problem was going to be a "tens of billions" of dollar problem, all-in. We now have seen over $100 billion in writedowns thus far, and Goldman Sachs has said out loud they think its a one trillion dollar problem, which is somewhere between 10 and 100 times as large as Bernanke originally told Congress. Has Bernanke been held accountable for this radically inaccurate "guess"? Of course not. Nor will he be unless you speak up.

Some of you remember the RTC, which allegedly was a "ten or twenty billion dollar" enterprise when the S&L crisis broke. It ultimately cost between $150 and $200 billion of taxpayer money, depending on who you ask, or ten times the original estimate. Yet none of those lawmakers and "agency wonks" were held to account either.

Social Security and Medicare were originally tiny portions of Federal outlays, and were projected to remain a "tiny" portion of public spending. They now constitute, together, some 30% of The Federal Budget, and are growing at a rapacious pace, and yet nobody in the government has ever been held to account for the incredible damage this not only has done but will do to our federal budget down the road.

All of this, thus far up until Bear Stearns, was done above the table and under the rules proscribed by the Constitution.

How much accountability do you think we will achieve when the appropriation is done BEYOND the reach - and accountability - of Congress?

"What is zero, Alex."

The 900lb Gorilla in the room is home prices. Pimco's Bill Gross, as I noted in The Ticker, is ranting and raving about "the need to stop home price declines", and has been doing so repeatedly both in his letters and on national television.

That is because he knows what is coming and how bad it is going to get.

The problem is that we can't stop home price declines, which is why you haven't heard Gross actually come out with a proposal to do so.

It is mathematically impossible to achieve his goal and he knows it.

Debt-to-income ratios over 36-40% are unaffordable no matter what you do, and this naturally caps home prices in the 2.5-3x income range, with the lower end being present when interest rates are relatively high (8-10%) and the upper end being present when they are low (6-8%.) Long-money rates under 6% are historically an aberration and cannot be sustained with the public debt and deficit spending our government engages in.

The nasty in all of this mess is that any attempt to prop up banks like Bear Stearns or others - and there will be others - inevitably screws the vast majority of Americans.

Let's remember - 30% of homes in America have no mortgage at all. Those homeowners have nothing to be gained by "bailouts" for speculators or homeowners, as they own their homes outright.

Another 50% of the housing stock has a mortgage on it that was underwritten under sound guidelines - 20% down, no piggybacks, owned for a long time. These mortgages are not underwater and won't go underwater. Yes, there will be home price depreciation, but the principal will remain less than the note, top to bottom, even if we have a severe, deep recession.

The last 20% of the homes are the problem.

About half of those were purchased during the "bubble years". They are either underwater now or will be. There is no escape from this reality, and most of these will foreclose if the borrowers/owners are intelligent about it. They will exercise the right of "efficient breach" and jingle mail the keys. Their credit will be destroyed for several years, but that's where it stops for them.

The other half of the remainder, 10% of the total, are worse. These are the homes that were serially flipped or serially refinanced. Many, but not all, are held by speculators who got left "holding the bag." Those who serially refinanced and MEW'd out the money to blow on various toys and spending are the ones with real problems. Essentially all of these homes will eventually foreclose and most of those loans are "recourse", which means the borrowers - your neighbors - will be forced in to bankruptcy. This number may eventually reach 10% of all American households, or fifteen to twenty million filings over the next few years.

Now let's look at the economic damage.

The "best figure" I have on the US housing stock value is right near $36 trillion. 20% of that value, or about $7.2 trillion, is "at risk" in terms of borrowers. Let's further assume that through FHA and other programs, we can save half of these homes from foreclosure.

None of that housing stock subject to foreclosure is a zero. If we assume rather pessimistic recovery on first mortgages of 50%, this is $1.8 trillion in real losses that are going to be realized on the value of the homes.

The bad news is that there are also in the high several hundred billion in HELOCs that are worthless on top of the rest. It is reasonable to assume that of the HELOC money out there, that associated with the foreclosed homes has a zero recovery, as these homes are all underwater on the firsts. Call this $100 billion more of realized losses.

As you can see, we are rapidly approaching the $2 trillion mark and we have not yet accounted for any of the "knock on" effects such as decreases in consumer spending, decreases in construction activity and lost jobs across the economy. All in it is likely that the total bill for this carnage will exceed $5 trillion dollars.

To put this in perspective, and why we must stop any attempt to corrupt the power of the purse here and now, we must keep in mind that the total outstanding public debt in the United States is approximately $9 trillion.

In order to "absorb" this we would have to further devalue our currency to an outrageous degree or, alternatively, suffer monetary and price inflation in the 10% area for several years. Such an act would immediately and permanently impoverish all those who made prudent homebuying decisions, whether they are people who paid cash, who have reasonable mortgages, or who have long since paid off their house.

In addition such an attempt would destroy those on fixed incomes, including all retired Senior Citizens living in whole or part off Social Security. The entirety of the population reliant on Social Security to any significant extent would be reduced to poverty and the middle class of America would lose at least half of its discretionary purchasing power on a permanent basis.

If we do not restore the power of the purse to Congress where it belongs the bankers WILL attempt to prevent these losses from flowing back to them, effectively forcing them down the throats of your retired parents, grandparents, and the working class, all of whom will see severe decreases in their standard of living.

With the bankers having the power of the purse, instead of Congress, you will eat all of the losses and the catastrophe will be served upon you in order to save them!

The Bear Stearns bailout will likely not cost $29 billion, it is very likely to cost $100-300 billion if historical precedent holds. The Fed does not HAVE an extra $300 billion, and will, since it has been given the power of the purse, shove off that cost on the taxpayer by demanding it of Treasury.

Nor will this stop with Bear Stearns, as I have illustrated above.

The amount at risk in housing alone is close to $2 trillion! This does not count any of the "at risk" amounts in auto loans that will go bad, credit card debt that will default, or commercial real estate, nor does it, as I noted, include all the "knock on" effects.

All of these losses are real and WILL be realized.

We can argue over who eats these losses but we cannot prevent them from occurring.

When, not if, this flows through to the public balance sheet we will see immediate and severe cramping of the Federal Budget. Unable to fund itself on reasonable terms the government will find itself forced to drastically slash entitlement spending.

That, in turn, will lead to severe "voter unrest", and from there you can figure it out - what always happens will happen once again, as "someone" will appear on the political stage offering bread and circuses, which of course will require that the citizens give up "just a bit" of their freedom........

Still want to sit around and drink beer?



Then sign the petition to ask the House and Senate to force the unwind of this transaction and, if Bernanke and Paulson refuse, to Impeach Bush (and by extension Hanky Panky)

While you're at it, Ben has been "invited" to several committee meetings the next few days. Here's the list of the Committees in the House and Senate - I strongly suggest that you give the appropriate Congressfolk a jingle and tell them what you think about all of this....

I made several of these calls today and was told they were very busy.

Perhaps tomorrow could be even busier...... but that, of course, is up to you.

The question, and what should drive you to act (or not) is simple - do you want our flag to look like this in a few short years? If not then pick up the phone.

Senate Banking Committee
   First       Last       Phone         Fax         State
Richard Shelby 202-224-5744 202-224-3416 AL
Wayne Allard 202-224-5941 202-224-6471 CO
Christopher Dodd 202-224-2823 202-224-1083 CT
Tom Carper 202-224-2441 202-228-2190 DE
Mel Martinez 202-224-3041 202-228-5171 FL
Daniel Akaka 202-224-6361 202-224-2126 HI
Evan Bayh 202-224-5623 202-228-1377 IN
Jim Bunning 202-224-4343 202-228-1373 KY
Jon Tester 202-224-2644 202-224-8594 MT
Elizabeth Dole 202-224-6342 202-224-1100 NC
Chuck Hagel 202-224-4224 202-224-5213 NE
Robert Menendez 202-224-4744 202-228-2197 NJ
Charles Schumer 202-224-6542 202-228-3027 NY
Sherrod Brown 202-224-2315 202-228-6321 OH
Tim Johnson 202-224-5842 202-228-5765 SD
Bob Corker 202-224-3344 202-228-0566 TN
Robert Bennett 202-224-5444 202-228-1168 UT
Michael Enzi 202-224-3424 202-228-0359 WY

House Financial Services Committee

    First         Last         Phone          Fax        State
Spencer Bachus 202-225-4921 202-225-2082 AL
Kevin McCarthy 202-225-2915 202-225-2908 CA
Bradley Sherman 202-225-5911 202-225-5879 CA
Gary Miller 202-225-3201 202-226-6962 CA
Maxine Waters 202-225-2201 202-225-7854 CA
Ed Royce 202-225-4111 202-226-0335 CA
Joe Baca 202-225-6161 202-225-8671 CA
John Campbell 202-225-5611 202-225-9177 CA
Ed Perlmutter 202-225-2645 202-225-5278 CO
Christopher Shays 202-225-5541 202-225-9629 CT
Christopher Murphy 202-225-4476 202-225-5933 CT
Michael Castle 202-225-4165 202-225-2291 DE
Ginny Brown-Waite 202-225-1002 202-226-6559 FL
Robert Wexler 202-225-3001 202-225-5974 FL
Tom Feeney 202-225-2706 202-226-6299 FL
Tim Mahoney 202-225-5792 202-225-3132 FL
Ron Klein 202-225-3026 202-225-8398 FL
Adam Putnam 202-225-1252 202-226-0585 FL
Tom Price 202-225-4501 202-225-4656 GA
Jim Marshall 202-225-6531 202-225-3013 GA
David Scott 202-225-2939 202-225-4628 GA
Peter Roskam 202-224-4561 202-225-1166 IL
Judy Biggert 202-225-3515 202-225-9420 IL
Luis Gutierrez 202-225-8203 202-225-7810 IL
Donald Manzullo 202-225-5676 202-225-5284 IL
Melissa Bean 202-225-3711 202-225-7830 IL
Joe Donnelly 202-225-3915 202-225-6798 IN
Geoff Davis 202-225-3456 202-225-0003 KY
Michael Capuano 202-225-5111 202-225-9322 MA
Barney Frank 202-225-5931 617-332-2822 MA
Stephen Lynch 202-225-8273 202-225-3984 MA
Keith Ellison 202-225-4755 202-225-4886 MN
Michele Bachmann 202-225-2331 202-225-6475 MN
William Clay 202-225-2406 202-226-3717 MO
Emanuel Cleaver 202-225-4535 202-225-4403 MO
Brad Miller 202-225-3032 202-225-0181 NC
Walter Jones 202-225-3415 202-225-3286 NC
Patrick McHenry 202-225-2576 202-225-0316 NC
Melvin Watt 202-225-1510 202-225-1512 NC
Paul W. Hodes 202-225-5206 202-225-2946 NH
Albio Sires 202-225-7919 202-226-0792 NJ
Scott Garrett 202-225-4465 202-225-9048 NJ
Steve Pearce 202-225-2365 202-225-9599 NM
Dean Heller 202-225-6155 202-225-5679 NV
Peter King 202-225-7896 202-226-2279 NY
Carolyn McCarthy 202-225-5516 202-225-5758 NY
Gary Ackerman 202-225-2601 202-225-1589 NY
Carolyn Maloney 202-225-7944 202-225-4709 NY
Gregory Meeks 202-225-3461 202-226-4169 NY
Nydia Velazquez 202-225-2361 202-226-0327 NY
Deborah Pryce 202-225-2015 202-225-3529 OH
Steven LaTourette 202-225-5731 202-225-3307 OH
Charles Wilson 202-225-5705 202-225-5907 OH
Dan Boren 202-225-2701 202-225-3038 OK
Frank Lucas 202-225-5565 202-225-8698 OK
Paul Kanjorski 202-225-6511 202-225-0764 PA
Jim Gerlach 202-225-4315 202-225-8440 PA
Gresham Barrett 202-225-5301 202-225-3216 SC
Lincoln Davis 202-225-6831 202-226-5172 TN
Randy Neugebauer 202-225-4005 202-225-5547 TX
Al Green 202-225-7508 202-225-2947 TX
Ruben Hinojosa 202-225-2531 202-225-5688 TX
Jeb Hensarling 202-225-3484 202-226-4888 TX
Ron Paul 202-225-2831 202-226-9379 TX
Kenny Marchant 202-225-6605 202-225-0074 TX
Gwen Moore 202-225-4572 202-225-8135 WI
Shelley Moore Capito 202-225-2711 202-225-7856 WV

Joint Economic Committee

  First      Last       Phone           Fax        State
Loretta Sanchez 202-225-2965 202-225-5859 CA
Baron Hill 202-225-5315 202-226-6866 IN
Sam Brownback 202-224-6521 202-228-1265 KS
Edward Kennedy 202-224-4543 202-224-2417 MA
Elijah Cummings 202-225-4741 202-225-3178 MD
Amy Klobuchar 202-224-3244 202-228-2186 MN
John Sununu 202-224-2841 202-228-4131 NH
James Saxton 202-225-4765 202-225-0778 NJ
Jeff Bingaman 202-224-5521 202-224-2852 NM
Maurice Hinchey 202-225-6335 202-226-0774 NY
Charles Schumer 202-224-6542 202-228-3027 NY
Carolyn Maloney 202-225-7944 202-225-4709 NY
Phil English 202-225-5406 202-225-3103 PA
Robert P. Casey 202-224-6324 202-228-0604 PA
Jim DeMint 202-224-6121 202-228-5143 SC
Lloyd Doggett 202-225-4865 202-225-3073 TX
Kevin Brady 202-225-4901 202-225-5524 TX
Ron Paul 202-225-2831 202-226-9379 TX
Robert Bennett 202-224-5444 202-228-1168 UT
Jim Webb 202-224-4024 202-228-6363 VA


scandia said...

This mornings announcement in the Globe that the Bank Of Canada intends to take toxic collateral onto its books exposes the Bank of Canada as a branch of the Feds.The spin is this will" enhance flexibility..."! So Denninger's concerns match mine. I want clarity,transparency. Apparently the ruling class does not.

jwhitland said...

Isn't the Fed's mandate to impoverish pensioners? I mean, ensure full employment? How can you have full employment if a significant percent of the population is rich enough to not need to work? [OK, this is a troll, I suppose that there is some other relevant definition of full employment].

Livin' LaVida Local said...

I've been calling. I don't know how far down the lists I'll get, but I'm calling.

I have no hope these calls or petitions will do anything - it's we little people who stand to lose everything if this sort of public thievery continues against the wealthy people who stand to lose everything if it does not. So it doesn't take a crystal ball to figure out who will come out on top here, especially since the aforementioned wealthy folks run the government AND the banks. But I don't want to later have to live with the fact that I did nothing and chose to just sleep through it all.