Fisher Investments Editorial Staff
US Economy

Fresh Air’s Fleeting

By, 12/15/2008

Story Highlights:

  • Politicians usually confound us, yet the recent rejection of an auto bailout and passage of a bill to possibly suspend required distributions for retirees were pleasant surprises.
  • True to form, there was plenty to shake our heads at too—in place of the congressional auto bailout package, the Treasury and White House may tap TARP funds.
  • Sadly, in today's political climate, whether it's by renewed congressional effort or a dip into TARP, it looks likely we'll send some money to Detroit anyway.

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We can find plenty of faults in the government's handling of the financial crisis. But sometimes politicians surprise us. To wit, the problematic auto bailout passed the House but was defeated in the Senate Thursday night, probably putting off congressional action until January. The plan had its merits, but Chapter 11 bankruptcy still seems the better route to us. While Chapter 11 isn't a walk in the park, it's probably more effective and likely way less harmful long term than an ad-hoc federal bailout headed by a car-czar with no auto experience. If there's anyone who could run the Big Three worse than management, it's probably Washington.

Amazingly, another wise move from Congress also surfaced: A bill passed to temporarily lift older retirees' Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) as well as ease federal pension funding requirements. (The bill, if signed, likely wouldn't take effect until 2009.) RMDs can force investors to sell at relative lows, so it would have been nice if it had been in place this year. But even so, this small concession is an easy, quick move to give investors more control over their assets and incent folks to remain invested instead of artificially forcing sales. We'd like to see more rational moves like that. For instance, how about losing the caps on annual tax deferred savings—wouldn't that be a simple way to stimulate investment? There are plenty of non-invasive methods to attack the crisis head on, yet so far the government has preferred wieldy to aerodynamic.

And true to form, though momentarily encouraged, we soon had plenty to shake our heads at too. As soon as the Senate nixed the auto bailout, the White House and Treasury called the vote a congressional breakdown and may tap TARP funds to do it anyway. Remember, TARP was intended to stabilize the financial system—which is instrumental to the proper functioning of all sectors—not just rescue any failing company in need of cash. But now, they would recapitalize failing businesses—that aren't banks—in the face of a clear "no" vote by the legislative branch. Sadly, in today's political climate, whether it's by renewed congressional effort or a dip into TARP, it's still possible we'll send public money to Detroit anyway.

And hence, balance is restored—some good action, and plenty of ill-advised. Just about what we've come to expect from Washington.

*The content contained in this article represents only the opinions and viewpoints of the Fisher Investments editorial staff.

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*The content contained in this article represents only the opinions and viewpoints of the Fisher Investments editorial staff.

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