Politics » Politics Feature

Cohen: "Our Whole Idea of the Free Market Is History."



Forecasting "a massive change in the way government and the free market have interacted," 9th District U.S. Representative Steve Cohen said Friday that Congress was prepared to work past its planned adjournment this coming Friday to "come up with a package that will rescue the economy."

Discussing the current economic crisis at an impromptu press conference at his Midtown home, the Memphis congressman recounted for reporters "the most sobering conference call I've ever been in" -- one that he and other members of the congressional Democratic caucus had earlier Friday with Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

As other governmental figures had done on Friday, Cohen described the situation as "the worst crisis since the Great Depression."

"Everybody's pension, everybody's job is at stake," said Cohen. "Homes, mortgages, businesses, everything." At stake, as Congress begins work this weekend on an emergency plan is nothing less than "preserving the American economic system." Cohen said the current congressional session might be extended through "the end of October," right up to the eve of the presidential election, in order to work out all the ramifications.

In the short run, Congress will assume a "massive" amount of debt stemming from the sub-prime mortgage catastrophe resulting in the collapse or near-collapse of several venerable Wall Street investment firms. In the long run, there must be serious reforms, "a change in the way the American people see their government," Cohen said. "Our whole idea of the free market is history."

Attributing the current crisis to "greed in the private sector and disregard n the public sector," Cohen called for a return to the principle of regulation that had been forsaken by the current administration. Among a variety of other changes he suggested might be coming were curbs on "short selling" in the stock market, better capitalization, and an end to "the disgustingly high amounts of money" in golden parachutes that corporation executives have been given "for failing."

Cohen expressed confidence in Secretary Paulson, "who at the present moment is the president." Asked if he thought the crisis would have consequences in the current election environment, he assailed Republican presidential candidate John McCain for a "total disinclination" to deal with the economy and said, "I don't see how it can fail to benefit the Democratic Party." But he envisioned that the two parties would work together on an overall solution.

UPDATE: Although the exact beginning of the sentence is somewhat hard to discern, repeated listenings to the recording of Rep. Cohen's press conference suggest that the word "our" may be closer to what he said than "the," in the quotation that forms the headline of this article. Accordingly, the quotation has been changed.-- J.B.

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