At his final press conference today, Bush announced that he would ask Congress for the second half of the $700 billion bailout only if Obama asked him to. “I have talked to the president-elect about this subject,” Bush said. “And I told him that if he felt that he needed the $350 billion, I would be willing to ask for it. In other words, if he felt like it needed to happen on my watch.”
Well of course Obama wants it to happen on Bush’s watch. Congress is reportedly very unhappy with administration’s bait-and-switch on the first $350 billion, and a request for the second $350 billion will entail contentious hearings at best and a vote against releasing the funds at worst. Why would Obama want his first days in office to involve a huge fight with Congress over this wildly unpopular program?
The obvious answer is that he doesn’t, so naturally he immediately asked Bush to take the heat for him. Mere hours after the conclusion of Bush’s presser, this story crossed the wires:
NEW YORK — President-elect Barack Obama is asking Congress for access to $350 billion in remaining federal bailout funds, the White House said Monday.
Obama asked President Bush to notify Congress of Obama’s intent to use the remaining balance under the Treasury Department’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, according to the White House press office.
“President Bush agreed to the President-elect’s request. We will continue our consultations with the President-elect’s transition team, and with Congress, on how best to proceed in accordance with the requirements of the statute,” Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement.
Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against Congress here because of the way the TARP is structured. Even if Congress voted against releasing the funds, Bush or Obama could veto the vote and get the funds anyway. Of course, you can see why Obama would want to avoid being the one to use the veto.