WASHINGTON — Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, said Congress has only itself to blame for misgivings over how the first $350 billion of bailout money has been spent.
The Texas Republican, one of five members of a congressionally appointed panel overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, said lawmakers should agree on objectives and enhance accountability before they allow the release of the second half of funds.
"I find it somewhat ironic that when you give Treasury carte blanche, and then they use carte blanche, that all of a sudden people in Washington and Congress are shocked and appalled — they wrote the statute," he said in an interview Monday.
Rep. Hensarling, who opposed Tarp from the beginning, said he continues to support blocking the release of the rest of the funds. (President-elect Barack Obama formally requested the remaining funds on Monday. See related story.) "I would be inclined to disapprove until we have a better idea how it's going to be used," Rep. Hensarling said.
The House plans to vote this week on a bill House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank introduced Friday that would put conditions on the rest of the funds, including setting up a loan modification plan.
Rep. Hensarling said he disagreed with parts of the bill.
"I do think it's important to add more layers of accountability and transparency to it," he said. "There needs to be some plan put on the table besides the previous plan... but to sign up for Chairman Frank's plan of picking winners and losers and taking taxpayer funds to take away from some homeowners to benefit other homeowners is not a plan I'm not going to sign up for."
In addition to monitoring Tarp, the oversight panel is scheduled to release recommendations Jan. 20 on regulatory restructuring, but Rep. Hensarling said not to expect too much from the report, given the time restraints.
"There is no way that the subject will be treated in its final form on Jan. 20," he said. "It is too massive of a challenge at this point. Now that doesn't mean that the report cannot be very helpful — add to the body of literature and make solid recommendations — that's all possible."
Rep. Hensarling would not offer specifics from the regulatory report, but he said his legislation to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is high on his own restructuring agenda.
"I don't know how anybody can believe maintaining the status quo on GSEs is sustainable," he said. "Having Fannie and Freddie be neither fish nor foul — their ability to privatize their profits, socialize their losses — that's an untenable situation."