Yesterday´s House Financial Services hearing on Tarp accountability pitted high-flying lawmakers against high-flying CEOs, and it was clear that the two groups´ areas of expertise seldom overlapped. This tinted the day´s proceedings with a cast of absurdity that flared up at certain moments to turn the otherwise humdrum hearing into a circus sideshow.
One laughable exchange occurred when Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., accused the eight big bankers of "paying yourselves money just to take Tarp funds." Ruffled witnesses turned to one another, unsure of what she meant. Then Vikram Pandit, Citigroup´s CEO, realized she was talking about the fees the banks generated from underwriting issuances of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.-guaranteed debt. A relieved sigh traveled through the others.
Throughout the day, several committee members demanded a show of hands for various yes-or-no questions, but these operations never seemed to go smoothly. And the committee´s chairman, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., had to remind the other members more than once that the official record wouldn´t be able to pick up gestures.
Then there was Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who asked Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein whether he believed "that warehouse lending is responsible."
"You mean against a physical warehouse?" Mr. Blankfein sputtered.
But the star performance was turned in by Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, who was asked, by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., whether he thought BofA would be a good candidate for nationalization.
Mr. Lewis blinked at him. "Are you talking to me?" He asked.