For better or worse, we're one step closer to making the mother of all mother of all bailouts a reality. The Senate passed a bill last night that could extend up to $700 billion to unclog our financial system, approving the measure by an almost 3-to-1 ratio. The House of Representatives -- which voted down its version of the bill on Monday -- is likely to vote on an updated proposal Friday.
Good news, right? Of course, that depends on whom you ask. Some banks, such as JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) , are sitting near 52-week highs, while others, such as National City (NYSE: NCC ) , are holding on for dear life and realizing that anything less than a bailout could force them down the path of Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM ) or Wachovia (NYSE: WB ) . But despite the constant bickering and split opinions, this bailout is about Main Street, not Wall Street.
Over the past few days, we ran two polls asking Fool readers how they felt about the proposed bill. With more than 18,000 votes cast, the results are pretty darn split. The poll conducted closer to the Dow Jones' 777-point decline sided more toward a bailout, while the poll conducted closer the Dow's nearly 500-point gain sided closer against a bailout. Go figure. At any rate, this week has been completely dominated by split opinions over whether the proposed plan makes any sense, and whether we need a bailout at all.
If you're ideologically opposed to any intervention in the first place, that's one thing. But what seems to have been wholly overlooked are the huge changes made over the last week. Hank Paulson's original three-page plan that gave the former Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) CEO unfettered reign over the situation morphed into a more appropriate 400-plus page proposal that should have put many of the topics headlining the debate circle to rest. The updated bill, among other things, proposes:
- Caps on executive compensation.
- Amendments to retrieve any cost to taxpayers from the financial industry after five years.
- A demand of equity compensation form any company taking part in the plan.
- A move to push FDIC insurance limits from $100,000 to $250,000 per account.
- A slew of tax breaks on everything from alternative energy to tuition deduction and teacher expenses.
- An oversight board.
Why did the changes fail to sway so many people who are opposed to the exact areas the bill tried to dispel? My take is that Washington has done an absolutely terrible job informing people whom this bailout is actually designed to help. The words "Wall Street" and "bailout" have been jumbled together so closely in the same sentence that it's all too easy to overlook that the main premise of the bailout is to unclog the credit markets, not to line the pockets of the infamous Wall Street "fat cats."
No matter how you feel about the bailout, the fact is that credit is completely frozen in place, and it'll have an effect on you and everyone you know until it gets fixed. Auto giants such as Toyota (NYSE: TM ) and GM (NYSE: GM ) are seeing sales get absolutely decimated amid a freeze-up in auto loans. From small businesses that can't make payroll because lines of credit are being pulled to students who can't get education loans to ... oh, you get the idea ... no use belaboring the Wall Street-vs.-Main Street comparison any more than it has been, but no matter what way it gets turned or who you think is to blame, the problem has become everyone's business now.
Regardless, this debate is sure to remain heated for quite some time. Care to speak up? We'd love to hear from you. Feel free to take part in our two Fool polls, and chime in on our bailout discussion board.
For related Foolishness: