Barack Obama made clear today exactly what is at stake if Congress approves the Administration’s proposed bailout of Wall Street without asking that those responsible for the financial mess pay for it: Every proposal for universal health care, transforming our energy system, helping people pay for college, and so on may go down the tubes, compliments of Republican fiscal and financial mismanagement.

"Does that mean that I can do everything that I’ve called for in this campaign right away? Probably not. I think we’re going to have to phase it in. And a lot of it’s going to depend on what our tax revenues look like," Obama said on NBC.

We have on these pages emphasized the tradeoffs the nation faces if the Administration gets its way. As I said on Sunday,

The most important condition to put on any bailout proposal is to impose a tax surcharge on the incomes of the wealthiest Americans to pay the bailout’s cost . . .

Tying the surtax to full bailout repayment will provide a strong incentive for those who don’t like taxes to insist on bailout approaches that actually work and minimize taxpayer exposure. . .

Yesterday, Ian Welsh urged Congress to include something like Bernie Sanders’ proposal to impose a 10 percent tax surcharge on those making over $1,000,000 to pay for an expected trillion dollar bailout. Barney Frank agreed on Face the Nation. In setting out his conditions for any bailout today, Obama explained what we have to give up if the bailout is not structured well and not paid for by those who should pay for it.

This may be the most important decision affecting our future, and it’s time this tradeoff between not paying for a lousy bailout and having universal health care, etc, became the center of our national discussion.