Obama pricks Washington over meltdown

September 23, 2008 12:00 am

, GREEN BAY, September 23 – Democrat Barack Obama warned the Wall Street meltdown was no mere "accident of history" but proved the need for sweeping change to purge the waste and abuse staining US politics.

Obama’s Republican rival John McCain meanwhile cautioned that a staggering 700-billion-dollar-government bailout plan for reeling finance firms vested a single official with unprecedented power with little or no accountability.

The presidential foes fought to distinguish themselves on the economy as the temperature of the race heated up ahead of Friday’s first of three head-to-head debates, which offer final chances for either to land a knock-out blow.

Obama attempted to use the crisis to reignite his crusade for political change, while McCain sought to revive his image as a grizzled fighter who does not balk at confronting his own party in the struggle for reform.

"We did not arrive at this moment by some accident of history," Obama said in the key midwestern state of Wisconsin, as he lashed "greed and irresponsibility" in both Washington and Wall Street.

"We are in this mess because of a bankrupt philosophy that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to the rest of us.

"We must reform the waste and abuse in our government, we must reform the rules of the road that let Wall Street run wild and stuck Main Street with the bill — we must change Washington now."

Obama argued that Senator McCain, after years in Washington, was partly to blame for the bankrupt political climate, and accused him of stuffing his campaign leadership with corporate lobbyists.

McCain, campaigning in the battleground of Pennsylvania, hit back that Obama was guilty of a "lack of leadership" on the financial crisis, mining for votes of blue-collar Democrats and independents who have yet to warm to his rival.

"I am greatly concerned about the plan that gives a single individual the unprecedented power to spend one trillion dollars without any meaningful accountability," McCain said in Scranton, former hometown of Democratic vice presidential hopeful Joseph Biden.

"Never before in the history of our nation has so much power and money been concentrated in the hands of one person.

"This arrangement makes me deeply uncomfortable. When we are talking about trillions of dollars of taxpayer money, ‘trust me’ is simply not good enough."

The proposed bailout plan would allow US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to sell new debt to buy vast amounts of mortgage securities and other "toxic" assets that have clogged the financial system.

McCain called for an oversight board made up of figures respected in the business world such as billionaire financier Warren Buffett, his Republican primary opponent Mitt Romney and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He also warned against "golden parachutes" for executives of disgraced Wall Street firms, saying they should not get salaries higher than top government officials.

Later, appearing in Media, a small town outside Philadelphia, he accused Obama of "paralysis" when faced with the financial crisis.

Obama proposed a list of reforms in Washington which he said would help clear up the mess on Wall Street.

He announced plans to curb influence of lobbyists on the US government, save billions of dollars by reforming government contracting, to eliminate inefficient state programs and modernize financial regulation.

Obama would offer the US Federal Reserve greater supervisory authority over the financial industry, and bolster capital, liquidity and disclosure requirements.

On Sunday, Obama also expressed reservations on the oversight provisions of the Wall Street bailout plan expected to be taken up in Congress as soon as this week.

"I don’t think it can be a blank check," Obama said on CNBC.

"We can set up a system where there’s an independent overseer, maybe the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank and the Democrats and the Republicans each appoint somebody to oversee the system," Obama said.

Unlike Paulson and other Republicans, who called for a simple rescue deal, Obama said the plan working through Congress must protect hard-pressed voters on "Main Street" and not just corporate managers and shareholders.


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