American Taxpayers Are Getting Played

Rep. Elijah Cummings urgedTreasury officials to stop throwing money at companies.
Rep. Elijah Cummings urgedTreasury officials to stop throwing money at companies. (Mark Wilson - Getty Images)
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By Michelle Singletary
Thursday, November 20, 2008

I usually don't enjoy watching congressional hearings. They are often packed with blustering, long-winded, self-serving speeches that are nap-inducing.

But a recent hearing before the domestic policy subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was riveting. In part, it was because of remarks by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.).

The subject of the hearing was whether the Treasury Department was using bailout funds to increase foreclosure prevention, as Congress intended.

It was Cummings's questioning of Neel Kashkari, the interim assistant Treasury secretary for financial stability, that had me hollering.

I loved the Cummings tirade so much that I immediately began taping the session as it aired on C-SPAN. I've since viewed it a couple of more times. You can also watch it on YouTube.

During the hearing, Cummings said what I've been feeling for months. In straight-from-the-'hood vernacular, Cummings captured what has been done to American taxpayers.

"Mr. Kashkari, in the neighborhood I grew up in, in the inner city of Baltimore, one of the things that you tried to do was make sure that you were not considered a chump," Cummings said. "And what 'chump' meant was that you didn't want people to see you as just somebody they could get over on."

Corporate America is playing us like chumps. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and the folks he's assembled to try to get us out of the economic tempest are being played like chumps.

Exhibit A: American International Group.

AIG, the insurance giant, was initially saved from impending failure by an $85 billion loan. Then we hear AIG sponsored a lavish junket at a swank hotel after the infusion of government money -- our money.

Most recently, AIG said in its quarterly filing that it would allow employees to collect $503 million in deferred compensation.

"I'm just wondering, do you all say to yourself, 'Boy, this doesn't look too good'?" the congressman asked. "I mean, does that go through your head or is it just me? Am I missing something?"

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