The Corner

Plan B: FDIC?

Chatter has focused on a FDIC option as a fall-back. The WSJ wrote about it last week:

There is a better — and more transparent — way to put public capital into the banks while protecting taxpayers: through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The FDIC has long had the power to handle failed banks. But in 1991, Congress passed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act (FDICIA) that limited the FDIC’s ability to provide assistance to struggling but still solvent banks.

The exception is when there is a risk to the entire financial system. In that case, the President, Treasury Secretary and two-thirds of the Fed board can authorize such open-bank aid. The current moment would seem to qualify. Yet the White House has so far refused to trigger this exception and let the FDIC work with the likes of Wachovia, Morgan Stanley, and others before they crash and burn.

Whether or not the Paulson plan passes, President Bush should sign the FDICIA waiver. This would allow Treasury and the FDIC to inject new capital into banks early enough to prevent failures; in return, the feds could impose some discipline in the form of management dismissals and preferred stock or warrants that would protect taxpayers when the banks recover. This also beats the Congressional idea of attaching taxpayer warrants to the Paulson plan, which will be much harder to administer to hundreds of banks as opposed to one at a time through the FDIC.

Even if the Paulson plan passes Congress, this needs to be part of the strategy to stabilize the financial system. And if the Paulson plan fails on Capitol Hill, this is the only Plan B around.

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