The $100 Billion Bailout America Forgot

On this day in economic and legislative history...

You may not like the bailout bill that passed during the dark days of 2008. If it angers you, you know whom to blame -- the representatives and senators who voted for its passage. All votes were recorded then and, in many cases, these votes were used against the congressmen who made them during later campaigns. This was not the case on Nov. 27, 1991, when both houses of Congress approved a bill bailing out the floundering banking system -- then in the grip of the savings and loan crisis -- to the tune of more than $100 billion.

The House took no recorded vote, leaving 112 Representatives to stand in favor, and 63 against, on the strength of their own principles. The votes of the other 360 Representatives were never revealed. Only 83 of 100 votes were counted in the Senate, still a far better participation rate than that of the lower house -- and it was only because Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone insisted that the Senate record its votes that we know who cast those 83 yeas and nays. House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said of the vote that, "This is an unpleasant task, but I hope everyone will remember that we're not bailing out anyone but our constituents, who have their deposits in institutions." Those constituents had been poorly served by legislation enacted a mere 11 years earlier, which had loosened the regulations on savings and loans while simultaneously raising the ceiling on deposit insurance in the event of a bank failure. This legislation, known as the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act of 1980, was in many ways directly responsible for causing the savings and loan crisis.

It is worth noting, however, that Congress stripped all banking-deregulation recommendations made by the George H. W. Bush Administration from its final bill. The New York Times noted that the Bush Administration wished to end the "restricting [of] banks and insurance businesses from being owned by industrial enterprises, like General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) and IBM. The Administration argued that banks could be strengthened by repeal of these laws."

Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady was highly critical of Congress for its removal of these provisions. It's likely that their implementation would have accelerated the onset of a major financial crisis like that of 2008, but not substantially -- interstate banking deregulation was enacted before the last thrift failed, paving the way for too-big-to-fail banks.

It's also worth noting that industrial enterprises have not fared particularly well as the owners of financial institutions, certainly no better than the banking sector that they were supposed to strengthen. GM rapidly expanded its GMAC financial subsidiary, now Ally Financial, after earning approval to form a bank with it in 2000. GMAC later received $16 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and was the second-most-indebted private enterprise to have used the program behind only GM itself, five years after TARP began.

General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , which continues to operate one of the world's largest financial institutions (GE Capital) as its subsidiary, got $16 billion in precious Federal Reserve liquidity through central bank acquisitions of its commercial paper at the height of the financial crisis. A loophole in the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program also allowed GE to gain government guarantees for $85 billion of its debts. GE Capital used this guarantee to raise $74 billion by the time the market bottomed out in 2009.

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The lessons of the past can be invaluable for investors who want to understand the direction of the future. Deregulating the financial system led to not one, but two enormous bailouts by the U.S. government; but those who learned from the first crisis would have been far-better prepared for the second. If you're just getting started, history should be one facet of your investing education, but far from the sole lesson. That's why we've put together a brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," in which The Motley Fool's personal finance experts show you why investing is so important, and what you need to do to get started on the right path. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.


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