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The Congressional hearing we need

June 25, 2009

Once again the folks on Capitol Hill are spending time on a sideshow and ignoring the main event. What I’m talking about is today’s second round of Congressional hearings into the awful merger of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. 

Today’s featured witness is Gentle Ben Bernanke. Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee are determined to show that Bernanke twisted poor Ken Lewis’ arm, forced him to complete the Merrill acquisition and then covered it up. Meanwhile, Democrats want to prove that the BofA chief executive tried to blackmail the Fed and Treasury into coming up with financial aid to make the deal more palatable.

The truth, of course, probably lays somewhere between these two stark visions of reality. Or maybe it’s something entirely different.

But the point is, who really cares. As I’ve said before all this attention about the behind-the-scenes mating dance between BofA and Merrill is besides the point. Congress still refuses to hold a full-scale hearing into the root causes of the financial crisis.

US Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner, in an op-ed in The New York Times, makes a good point in faulting Congress and the White House for not conducting some 9/11 style commission investigation into the financial crisis and how it occurred. Posner rightly argues that “until these causes are determined we won’t know how to prevent a recurrence.”

But sadly, the political call in Washington has no interest in conducting such a worthwhile investigation. Instead what we can look forward to is part three of this political circus when former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is called to the stand by the Congressional panel.

I’d much rather read more emails from South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford to his Argentinian lover than hear one more word the Sad Sack merger of BofA and Merrill.

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