For whom the bell tolls

I think of my former boss Lloyd Bentsen, who, as a senator and Treasury secretary, drew on his experience as CEO and financier with one iron and inviolable rule.

Bentsen probably knew more about finance than any person who ever served in the Senate. He never made rash decisions. He always insisted that he, and his staff, have total grasp of issues and carefully consider all options.

Today the president, the Fed, the Treasury, the markets and the Congress are violating Bentsen’s cardinal rule and acting at a dangerous moment in the most half-assed manner, in haste and panic, not fully understanding the problem, the solution, or the implications.

1. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson should present Congress with their anticipated calendar for spending the $700 billion they request. Congress should immediately pass one-third of the money with unanimous bipartisan support.

2. Over the next month the administration and Congress should collaborate on executing the program, assessing mid-course corrections, devising reforms of bankruptcy laws, enacting economic stimulus for Main Street and bringing the Group of Seven into the solution.

This would restore common sense and reassure markets, investors and taxpayers while sharing the burden with European and Asian players, lowering the cost to Americans and increasing the chance of success.

The bell tolls today for all of us, but especially, in a historic generational crime, the bell tolls for young people who will pay for the gluttony, misdeeds and incompetence of the adults.

The girl in the baby carriage, the boy on the playground, the high school kids, the college students, the men and women in uniform will pay for the sins and shames of their elders:

A disastrous healthcare system. Pollution and global warming. A trillion-dollar budget deficit . National debt well over $10 trillion. Social Security in crisis. Long-term veterans’ needs that are underfunded by $500 billion or more. An energy disaster that oil drilling will not materially improve while oil markets are corrupted by rampant and extreme speculation. Education that lags in a brutally competitive world.

This is a moral crime by the old against the young. Now, without serious debate, without checks and balances, without understanding the implications of actions, we rush in haste and panic to risk stratospheric sums of taxpayer money and to destroy the capability of the next President and Congress to address grave and unmet needs. Anyone who claims a $700 billion bailout will not mandate an enormous tax increase later is delusional or lying.

We faced a run on the bank by the rich. Then a run on the bank by the banks. Now a raid on the Treasury in which taxpayers are forced to bail out today and finance tomorrow the greed, gluttony and incompetence in the scandal of our times.

Young people are told they are not old enough to drink, but they are young enough to die in wars while our reckless behavior takes precedence over their body armor, Humvees and medical care. Government creates unimaginable debt while giving moral lectures to workers who run up credit card bills to make ends meet.

Those who have the most are not asked what they can do for our country. Those who suffer are forced to pay the cost, for those who made millions while making this mess.

Let’s step back and think about this. For whom does the bell toll? For us.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He can be reached at