- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Economists can tell us when our nation’s financial system started to collapse — the fall of 2007. Market experts can tell us about how much value was wiped out — as much as $10.2 trillion last year in housing and stock values, including pension funds and 401(k) retirement accounts.

But who is accountable for the nearly unstoppable slide in our nation’s economy, which has affected the lives of every American? The owners of small businesses closed their doors. Home values plummeted. Hundreds of thousands of Americans lost jobs. The financial crisis set off the most severe downturn since the Great Depression.

As lawmakers, we need to know where mistakes were made. We believe the weight of accountability must be brought to bear. We must know what went wrong and what we can do to prevent another financial disaster in the future. There was failure all around. Were the regulators caught napping - or did the regulations fail to keep pace with the developing marketplace? Everyone’s actions need to be scrutinized, even those by Congress.

Looking for guidance, we turned to the only other time in the past decade when our nation experienced such a shock: the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The federal government was left asking how terrorists could have operated on our own soil in a coordinated attack that killed thousands. In an effort to insulate the answers from partisan politics or influence, Congress appointed an independent blue-ribbon commission to investigate, evaluate and write an objective conclusion.

Congress has passed and the president signed into law our legislation to create a similar panel to launch an independent, bipartisan inquiry into the near collapse of the global financial markets and the loss of trillions of dollars. It is imperative we gather all the facts available as we move to repair our economy and hold those who caused the collapse to account.

Modeled on the Sept. 11 commission, our Financial Crisis Commission will have until December 2010 to investigate all the circumstances that led to this financial crisis. The 10-member panel will have the authority to refer to the U.S. attorney general and state attorneys general any evidence that institutions or individuals may have violated existing laws. At the end of its investigation, the commission will report its findings to the president, Congress and the American people.

We urge our leaders in the House and Senate to appoint members of this commission without delay. The American people have waited long enough.

We need a forensic audit of the damage to financial markets and our economy; our bipartisan Financial Crisis Commission, working independently from Congress and the administration, can provide that audit. Ultimately, the findings of the Financial Crisis Commission can help us bring to account those responsible for our nation’s financial calamity and help us restore confidence in America’s market-based economy.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

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