Senate Probe of Economic Crisis Needed

By Byron Dorgan and John McCain
Sunday, March 8, 2009

More than $9 trillion -- in taxpayer dollars -- has been pledged, committed, lent or spent by the federal government in response to the economic crisis. Some say that if the economy continues to deteriorate, trillions more might be necessary to prevent another Great Depression.

Yet no one has investigated how this crisis happened. That is irresponsible. A comprehensive investigation is essential to prevent this from happening again.

We know how important such investigations can be. Several years ago, as chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, we conducted an extensive bipartisan investigation when reports of possible wrongdoing surfaced concerning lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cohorts. We hired investigators, issued subpoenas, took testimony and discovered a web of corruption that led to convictions. Abramoff sits in federal prison today.

That sort of investigation is, unfortunately, rare. While oversight and investigation are key responsibilities of the legislative branch, too often the daily demands on overburdened committees push sustained oversight down the list of priorities.

While much remains to be uncovered, we know that this crisis was triggered in part by unscrupulous behavior in the subprime loan market, the failure of key regulators, widespread greed and the fact that America's largest financial institutions were permitted to regulate themselves.

The urgency and scope of this problem dictate that we must join together, take bold steps to fix what's wrong and ensure that we never face this kind of threat again.

Requiring greater transparency and oversight can be done quickly. In addition, Congress should immediately commence a full investigation -- and in a manner that does not promote any political agenda.

The magnitude of a serious investigation and the conflicts likely to arise from fragmented committee jurisdictions suggest that a bipartisan select committee is necessary to uncover what happened, establish accountability and reform our financial system so that it is regulated in a manner that will provide stability and certainty in our markets. The committee must have expert staff and investigators and subpoena power to investigate fully and report back promptly.

The appointment of a select committee has a long and successful tradition in the U.S. Senate, including the Truman committee that investigated fraud, waste and abuse in government contracting during World War II and the Kefauver committee that investigated the national expansion of organized crime.

The recovery and growth of our economy depend on the confidence of the American people. That will be restored only when we have investigated, analyzed and fixed the things that caused today's economic crisis.

Byron Dorgan is a Democratic senator from North Dakota. John McCain is a Republican senator from Arizona.

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