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In a change from the original proposal sent to Capitol Hill, foreign-based banks with big U.S. operations could qualify for the Treasury Department’s mortgage bailout, according to the fine print of an administration statement Saturday night.
The theory, according to a participant in the negotiations, is that if the goal is to solve a liquidity crisis, it makes no sense to exclude banks that do a lot of lending in the United States.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson confirmed the change on ABC's "This Week," telling George Stephanopoulos that coverage of foreign-based banks is "a distinction without a difference to the American people."
"If a financial institution has business operations in the United States, hires people in the United States, if they are clogged with illiquid assets, they have the same impact on the American people as any other institution," Paulson said.
"That's a distinction without a difference to the American people. The key here is protecting the system. ... We have a global financial system, and we are talking very aggressively with other countries around the world and encouraging them to do similar things, and I believe a number of them will. But, remember, this is about protecting the American people and protecting the taxpayers. and the American people don't care who owns the financial institution. If the financial institution in this country has problems, it'll have the same impact whether it's the U.S. or foreign."
The legislative outline that went to Capitol Hill at 1:30 a.m. Saturday had said that an eligible financial institution had to have “its headquarters in the United States.” That would exclude foreign-based institutions with big U.S. operations, such as Barclays, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS.
But a Treasury “Fact Sheet” released at 7:15 Saturday night sought to give the administration more flexibility, with an expanded definition that could include all of those banks: “Participating financial institutions must have significant operations in the U.S., unless the Secretary makes a determination, in consultation with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, that broader eligibility is necessary to effectively stabilize financial markets.”