WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said Saturday that Congress was not told the truth about the bailout of the nation's financial system and should take back what is left of the $700 billion "blank check'' it gave the Bush administration.
"It is just outrageous that the American people don't know that Congress doesn't know how much money he (Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson) has given away to anyone,'' the Oklahoma Republican told the Tulsa World.
"It could be to his friends. It could be to anybody else. We don't know. There is no way of knowing.''
Inhofe's comments, unusually pointed even for a senator known for being blunt, come on the heels of Paulson's shift in how he thinks the bailout funds should be spent.
Last week the Treasury secretary announced he was abandoning his plan to free up the nation's credit system by buying up toxic assets from troubled financial institutions. Instead, Paulson wants to take a more direct action on the consumer credit front.
"He was able to get this authority from Congress predicated on what he was going to do, and then he didn't do it,'' Inhofe said.
"So, that's enough reason right there.''
Inhofe recalled earlier comments opposing Paulson's plan because the administration's point man did not have answers for a number of questions. He also recalled questioning the rush to get the bailout passed.
"I have learned a long time ago. When they come up and say this has to be done and has to be done immediately, there is no other way of doing it, you have to sit back and take a deep breath and nine times out of 10 they are not telling the truth,'' he said.
"And this is one of those nine times.''
Inhofe has laid out his legislative plans for this week on the bailout package in a letter to his Senate colleagues.
He wants to freeze what is left of the initial $350 billion — reportedly $60 billion, but Inhofe concedes he does not know for sure.
Then he wants a provision requiring an affirmative vote by Congress before Paulson can get his hands on the second $350 billion of bailout money.
Current law lays out a scenario where President Bush submits a plan on the second half of the funding.
Lawmakers have 15 days to disapprove it, but Inhofe questions that wording.
"Congress abdicated its constitutional responsibility by signing a truly blank check over to the Treasury Secretary,'' he wrote.
"However, the lame duck session of Congress offers us a tremendous opportunity to change course. We should take it.''
In the interview, the senator said his plans can provide "redemption'' for those senators who supported Paulson.
Inhofe's plan appears to be a long shot at this point. Senators originally approved the bailout plan by a 74-25 vote.
He does not know how much support he has among his Republican colleagues, and he concedes Democratic leaders could block it.
Bush also could veto it if it were to make it out of Congress.
Neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office nor the Treasury Department commented.
Reid, D-Nev., wants to use the upcoming lame duck session to push economic issues such as extending unemployment benefits and aid to the nation's ailing auto industry.
Inhofe opposes both.
"You don't stimulate the economy by giving away more money,'' he said.
In response to concerns expressed by some that allowing even one of the big automakers to fail would be too much of an economic hit for the nation, Inhofe said reality must be accepted.
"If we keep on nursing a broken system, then we can't expect to have a different result come later on,'' he said.
"I just think we have to draw the line someplace, and the time is here.''