These experts, from both political parties, say Bush’s early personnel choices and overarching antipathy toward regulation created a climate that, if it did not trigger the turmoil, almost certainly aggravated it. The president’s first two Treasury secretaries, for instance, lacked the kind of Wall Street expertise that might have helped them raise red flags about the use of complex financial instruments at the heart of the crisis.
To his credit, Bush accurately foresaw the danger posed by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and began calling as early as 2002 for greater regulation of the mortgage giants. But experts say the administration could have done even more to curb excesses in the housing market, and much more to police Wall Street, which transmitted those problems around the world.
In retrospect, “it would have helped for the Bush administration to empower the folks at Treasury and the Federal Reserve and the comptroller of the currency and the FDIC to look at these issues more closely,” said Vince Reinhardt, a former Federal Reserve economist now at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning research organization here. Reinhardt said it would also have helped “for Congress to have held hearings.”
Instead, voices inside the administration who favored tougher policing of Wall Street found themselves with few supporters. […]
Today, even those sympathetic to Bush say he cannot disentangle himself from a home-lending industry run amok or a banking industry that mortgaged its future on toxic loans. […]
To some extent, Bush was simply following a deregulatory pattern set by Clinton. Perhaps the most significant recent deregulation of the banking industry - the landmark act that allowed commercial banks to expand into other financial activities, like investment banking and insurance - was signed into law by Clinton in 1999. […]
Still, the White House, in the view of critics, fostered a free-market hothouse in which these excesses were able to flower. It avoided regulation of banks and mortgage brokers, leaving much of that work to the Federal Reserve, which, under Alan Greenspan, showed little appetite for regulation. By the time Bush’s current Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson Jr., proposed an overhaul of regulations governing the financial sector in April, the storm was already brewing. […]
Beyond its deregulatory bent, some economists argue that the administration’s fiscal and tax policies made the United States more dependent on foreign capital, which fueled the bubble in housing prices. […]
Critics, including McCain, say the SEC has been less active under its current chairman, Christopher Cox, a former Republican congressman from California. It has spent less on enforcement and levied less in fines on wrongdoers, according to the Government Accountability Office.
“You can’t overestimate what happens when you encourage regulators to believe that the goal of regulation is not to regulate,” said Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University.
In other areas, the Bush administration’s failures seem more a case of inaction. The administration, economists said, did little to curb the practices of mortgage brokers, who are regulated by the states. But Democrats in Congress were equally to blame for this, these economists said.