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Press Conference With Senator Byron Dorgan And Senator John McCain

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. DORGAN: Good afternoon to you.

Senator McCain and I are here today to tell you that we are introducing in the United States Senate today a piece of legislation that would establish a select committee on the investigation of the economic crisis.

Why do we need -- why do we feel we need a select committee? Let me say quickly -- and I know Senator McCain would join me in saying -- that we have a lot of committees in the Senate working very hard every single day just to keep up with the unfolding events in this financial crisis. It's a very, very serious financial challenge that our country faces.

But no committee at this point has the complete jurisdiction or the capability or the resources to take a look at what has happened to get us here and what are the facts that have now put us in this position and what should we learn from those set of facts going forward in terms of what we have to do.

You know that there's about $9 trillion at this point that's been extended as guarantees or bailouts by the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC and others. Most of it we don't know very much about. In fact, what little we've learned about this $9 trillion has been gleaned by some news organizations that had to file legal action to find out how much has been committed and guaranteed: $8 trillion in U.S. stock market losses; $6 trillion in housing-value declines; about 5 million jobs lost, either 3.6 million lost or the lost opportunity for the jobs that were necessary for the increased population during this period; 3 million foreclosure filings.

I don't need to go over this at great length to describe to you how significant an economic challenge and crisis this really is.

The cost is not just in numbers. It's in homes lost, jobs lost, savings gone, retirement savings gone, college savings gone. And this is a very, very serious challenge that we face in our country.

The -- what unites all of us, however, is that we don't know the array of facts, all of the facts that we should know and need to know to understand what's going on. I read the other day, as my colleagues have, the attorney general of New York is digging out facts about a Merrill Lynch/Bank of America issue, and bonuses that were paid, $3.6 billion in bonuses that were paid just a couple of weeks before Merrill Lynch was taken over by Bank of America. Six hundred ninety- four people got over $1 million each in bonuses just prior to the takeover, at which point they triggered $10 billion more of TARP funds because of the Merrill Lynch takeover.

Question: Should we know those things? What does that mean? What do we do to prevent those things from happening? Why should a state agency be digging that out? Shouldn't that be the responsibility of a select committee of the Congress?

What Senator McCain and I have proposed is a select committee of seven members of the United States Senate. It would require legislation be enacted by the Senate to create such a committee, a select committee with subpoena power; the capability, with the consult of both the chairman and the vice chairman of said committee, to subpoena, to investigate and study and make reports and determine what has happened.

This would not be a prosecutorial committee. Any issue of law- breaking or those kinds of things would be referred to justice or appropriate authorities. But this would be the one location where we would understand the vast array of knowledge of what has happened, what has caused this, and what can we learn from it that allows us to go forward and prevent it from happening again.

So I'm really pleased to join with my colleague Senator McCain. He and I have been engaged in a committee that did some investigations previously, much, much, much smaller than this issue, but did so successfully, and his work and reputation in those areas and the work that we've done together gives me great hope for working on a select committee, or at least together proposing a select committee that would be developed by the United States Senate.

Senator McCain?

SEN. MCCAIN: I want to thank Senator Dorgan again for the pleasure of working with him, as we have over many years on a broad range of issues. And it's a pleasure to work with him, as I think that it has obviously enabled us to do some good for the country and for Native Americans.

I think that Senator Dorgan pointed out some facts that are very important. They're articulated here with bailouts, stock market losses, housing values decline, jobs lost and foreclosures. And according to most statistics, things aren't getting any better.

Every place I go in my home state of Arizona, people are confused, they're upset and they're angry. And they want to know what happened. They want to know how we got into this ditch, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. They have a right to know.

So far, answers have not been forthcoming, unless they've been in a fragmentory -- fragmentation kind of fashion. So what the purpose of this select committee would be would be to hold hearings, call witnesses who were part of this debacle that we are now in, call in the people that are respected throughout this country, and then lay out some kind of a blueprint not only for the future, which is being worked on, but also so that there's not a reoccurrence of this kind of disaster that has fallen on millions of innocent Americans who have worked hard, saved, owned their own homes and are now seeing all of that disappearing.

So I would also point out that there is precedent. There's been a Kefauver committee, a Truman committee, a Church committee, a POW/MIA -- select committees. And these -- these select committees are called for when it cuts across a broad variety of issues and jurisdictions.

I think that the other committee chairmen and ranking members would welcome a select committee, since they all have their plates full with the agendas that they -- and issues that they're addressing today. So we intend that sometime in the near future to get support from our colleagues and to bring up for a vote a -- the appointment of a select committee, the composition of which Senator Dorgan just pointed out.

And by the way, that committee would have subpoena power, which would be very vital, if we're going to get to the bottom of what's happened here.

So I thank Senator Dorgan for his leadership, and I look forward to moving forward with the appointment of a select committee so the American people can get the answers that they deserve.

SEN. DORGAN (?): Questions?

SEN. MCCAIN: Goodbye.

Q Have you spoken about this with Chairman Baucus or Dodd yet?

SEN. DORGAN: Well, I have had a chance to visit with some in our caucus, including the majority leader and a couple of the committee chairs.

You know, as I said when I started, I think the committee chairs of the committees that are doing work here -- I know the Homeland Security Committee's doing some work as well -- all of them are working as hard as they can just to keep up with daily events that are unfolding.

But, you know, our duty is not just -- as a Congress -- to provide bailout funds. Our duty as a Congress is to find out what happens, study, investigate, determine what happened and make recommendations to make sure it doesn't happen again.

My colleague Senator McCain just described the importance of confidence. We're not going to get out of this until we've restored some confidence with the American people here. And one way to do that is to make sure everybody understands, here are the set of facts. You got to start with "What are the facts?" and then be guided toward the future with the facts that led us to this debacle.

And the only way we're going to get that is with this kind of a select committee.

Q Do you expect the Senate to go ahead and approve this select committee?

SEN. DORGAN: Well, the first -- the first step is to introduce a piece of legislation. The second step is for Senator McCain and I to work with our colleagues to convince them that this is the right step. I -- there's a very compelling case for the United States Senate to do this, and I hope my colleagues will agree with me.

Q Senator Dodd said today -- (off mike) -- and he said there's already another committee taking a long look at it. And -- (off mike) -- the need for it?

SEN. MCCAIN: We appreciate the work that the committees have been doing, ranging from Homeland Security to the Banking and Finance Committees, the other committees. We appreciate the work they're doing. But I think if you asked average citizens in America today, "Do you know why this happened and how it happened?," I think most Americans would say that they really don't understand what happened. And they're -- and it contributes to their anger and frustration.

Q I just wanted to get you all to both sort of weigh in. At the beginning of the last Congress, there was a lot of talk about earmark reform. Earmarks is one of those things that contribute to the deficit. Now it seems --

SEN. MCCAIN: We'll need an -- you think we'll need an earmark for this select committee.

Q Well, it's all been swallowed up. You know, it's all been swallowed up by $1 trillion in bailout. Do earmarks matter anymore?

SEN. MCCAIN: I think they do. Obviously I've been working very hard to see if we couldn't at least bring it under control to some degree. Apparently in all due respect, I've said, there's three kinds of members of Congress, Democrats, Republicans and appropriators.

And so --

(Laughter, cross talk.)

We just had another fight on the floor. And we lost. I do believe that in the last day or so, there has been a comment made, by the White House spokesperson and by the president, I understand, that they intend to do something about earmarks. I'd look forward to working with them on that.

SEN. DORGAN: Without getting into a long discussion, John and I don't agree on everything always. But let me just say that earmarks got way out of hand. I've said that before.

John is right about that. And I think John will also agree that there has been substantial reform. You can't ask for an earmark or have an earmark in this bill, at the moment, without your name being attached to it and having to respond to it.

Those reforms came about, because a lot of people were concerned about earmarks; myself included. And there's a substantial reduction. And there has been a substantial amount of additional information, about who asks for the earmark, what the earmark is for and so on. And the credit for that, I think, inures to John and many others who have pushed on this issue.

Q (Off mike) -- Andrew Cuomo is doing in New York? (Off mike.)

SEN. DORGAN: Let me just say that I think it is really sad, in many ways, that we are having to rely on information that is being gleaned by a state agency someplace. I'm pleased with what Mr. Cuomo is doing. He has taken a look at these things to the extent that he has the capability to do it. But that's just one part of it.

My point is, in this situation, as significant as this financial crisis is and with the impact it's having, on every American family, this Congress owes it to the American people to do the kind of diligence, do the kind of work that is necessary, do the oversight and the investigation and the study, to understand what happened.

There's nowhere where that mosaic exists, to try to understand and gather the information about what happened, so that you can from that determine which way you proceed. And you know, as I said, the way you establish confidence out there, in the country, is to have the American people understand that we're doing what we have to do, to unearth what happened here and make sure it never happens again.

SEN. MCCAIN: Can I just follow up. To state the obvious -- and we respect and appreciate everything the attorney general of the state of New York is doing. I can't tell you how much I admire it. But his job is very different from ours. His job is to bring -- to find out whether criminal activity has taken place and bring charges. That's what attorneys general do. Our job is to find out the causes and the remedies, not necessarily to bring cases for prosecution.

Q Senator, does the administration need to do a better job at explaining their strategy. We've seen additional money for AIG, a revision of the Citigroup bailout, the bailouts are continuing. Do you have a sense that there's a strategy in terms of how this is going forward right now?

SEN. DORGAN: You know, look. This is something that unites all of us. None of us have ever been here before. None of us have ever traveled this path. That includes the president and the secretary of the Treasury and every single member of the Congress. All of us are struggling to try to figure out how do you catch this as it's falling, how do you put a bottom under this economy and begin to build it back.

It would be, I suppose, easy for me to criticize virtually everything, but that's not something I want to do today. What I want to do today is to see if we can't do one piece of work here with our legislation that will give people some confidence that we finally understand the full dimension of what has happened to put us in this position, get the facts and be guided by the facts of what to do as we get out of this.

Q Senator Dorgan, the trillions that are being spent for the bailout -- (off mike). There are some choices being made about certain pieces of legislation, like cap and trade. Do you have some concern about the adverse effects on the American family as it pertains to that particular legislation? Is it possible that something like that could pass this year?

SEN. DORGAN: Well, I want to respond to that at another time. I mean, I think you could ask that same question about several other very large initiatives.

I want to make this point. When you talk about 8 (trillion dollars) or $9 trillion that has been guaranteed or used to bail out, an open discount window at the Federal Reserve Board, the first time in history for non-FDIC banks, I mean the first time in history that investment banks cam go to the Fed window and get money, who got it? How much? Where do these guarantees go? What are the consequences of them? What is the risk?

None of us know the answers to any of these things. There's no transparency, very little accountability. And, you know, this has been going on for a long time and I think it's time for us in the United States Senate to exert ourselves to get the set of facts here, understand them, and use them to guide us to a better future.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you very much.

SEN. DORGAN: Thank you.

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