More Money for Troubled Banks?

This is a rush transcript from "America's News HQ," January 14, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BILL HEMMER, HOST: What a day it was today in the world of business. Citigroup shares tumbling in Wall Street trading. This has the - well, the formerly largest bank in the world struggling and expected to unravel its business model. All this as congress wrestles over that next installment of Wall Street money, the bailout money, your tax dollars, your money.

Diane Brady with Business Week and Adam Lashinksky editor-at- large of Fortune magazine and John Bussey, the Washington bureau chief of Wall Street Journal. Good evening to both of you - all three of you, we should say. I've got a great panel here.

I'm looking at the headlines, guys. It's about as long as my arm here. Banks tell us they need more bailout money, and not just some money, by the way - billions of dollars. You have the retail sales number coming out for December. It was twice as bad as people thought. The inventories have been slashed, so that means we're making less. Diane, ladies first. Pick your poison, your dart.

Video: Watch Bill Hemmer's interview

DIANE BRADY, BUSINESS WEEK: Oh, where to start? Well, you know, one thing that intrigued me was the retail sales and the fact that people are spending less on some of those core items that we were supposed to basically have to be resilient, which is groceries, drugs, even pets. You know, you'll remember people have been treating their dogs like first-born children. It turns out when times are tight, the dog becomes a dog and goes back to cheap food. So, it's the pricing - across the board it is.

HEMMER: Because in the end, it's dog food anyway.

BRADY: It's a dog.

HEMMER: Adam, of all the headlines I'm listing off here today, what got your eye?

ADAM LASHINKSKY, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Oh, I'll take the TARP. You know, we've got this great ideological battle right now - you know, should we or shouldn't we? I happen to think we should. You know, no one argues that this money was spent well or efficiently or pleasantly. No one argues that there couldn't have been more transparency about the way that we spent the first $350 billion.

My question is, did we have a financial meltdown last year where people stopped doing any kind of business in the United States, and the answer is no. That's why I think we should give the Obama administration the money that it's asking for now with all sorts of conditions to get that money.

HEMMER: Conditions, questions, transparency - I don't think a lot of folks are frankly happy with what happened back in the fall. And I think congressmen and women, when they went home for the holidays, they got an earful. We know that on both sides. John, what's on your mind?

JOHN BUSSEY, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I think that Thursday and Friday, you're going to hear that earful expressed through the Congress. They still have to approve the spending of the additional $350 billion of TARP Money.

And a lot of Republicans who were unhappy with the fact that it was spent to begin with, the first half, and the manner in which it was spent, are going to be expressing doubts about whether or not they should release this money to the Obama administration.

The other thing that's happening is that an additional parallel track - you have the stimulus plan sort of getting bigger by the day. It's upwards of $800 billion to $850 billion now, with some additional projects that our reporter Greg Hitt found had been added to the program.

HEMMER: Well, we are finding out that this might be a $1.3 trillion vote all in over the next coming weeks in the time Congress. Diane, flip the conversation around a little bit here. If we didn't go for bailout number one, will we truly be worse off than we are now?

BRADY: You know, I just hope the next $350 billion is going to be put to better use than the first. The real issue - and we're seeing this with Citigroup right now - what's happened today is a lot of that money is being used to clean up balance sheets, to pay off debt. It's not going into the economy.

Every indication is we're going to need massive amounts of money. And it's clear that $700 billion may well be a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. You talk to Vikram Pandit. The amount of money he got essentially - he doesn't it's enough. And now, you see this kind of rapid disintegration of this company.

HEMMER: Well, what makes me wonder, Adam, and I thought they are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about this, about 20 minutes ago - is government truly the answer here? Or should we just accept the fact that some people fail?

LASHINKSKY: Well, yes. For example, in the case of Detroit, I think we should accept the case that some people fail. In the case of the most important financial companies in the economy, so far, thankfully, we're never going to know the answer to the question of what would have happened if we hadn't spent that first $350 billion.

I would just sort of humbly submit that nobody but government can spend $350 billion. So yes, I think we had it -

HEMMER: And they can do it without accounting for it. By the way, the "Wall Street Journal" is reporting right now that Bank of America is negotiating right now for more aid itself. John, is government the answer?

BUSSEY: Well, you know, Bank of America is not a surprise. And the fact that Citibank is having to sell off assets, not a surprise. These are balance sheets that are in pretty bad shape and are in need of capital. And I think that -

HEMMER: Are you a believer, John? I mean, do you think the first bailout, we had no choice on that, we had to do it?

BUSSEY: Well, that's the point I was going to make, is that the arguments that the first portions of the TARP, the $350 billion already spent, the lack of transparency - all of these things that are critical of the spending are very compelling.

On the other hand, what we do not know, and we have to put ourselves back into that period, late September, October, November, when the buck was being broken on money markets, when there was a flight to treasury bills, people didn't know whether the financial system was going to open up the next morning, let alone be able to function. We do not know whether or not things would be a whole lot worse, whether that money - if that money had not been spent, even though we have problems with the manner in which it was distributed.

HEMMER: Listen, what is going to happen tomorrow? I wish you could tell us because we're waiting. Thanks to all three of you tonight, all right? Diane, Adam, John, good to have you on this evening.

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