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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Country first?

The blow-by-blow descriptions of how the fiscal bailout proposals came together and then fell apart make for very fascinating reading -- and paint a very ugly picture about the tactics of the party that arrogantly proclaimed less than a month ago that it puts "Country First."

The naked attempt by House Republicans to stall in an effort to save John McCain's face over his stunt to hold tonight's debate hostage is appalling. While it is true there was no broad consensus over the terms, there was wide agreement that something needs to be done to prevent the economy from falling apart.

It's telling that, aside from the creepiness of Democrats actually agreeing with something supported by George Bush, a bipartisan group of negotiators had come close to a plan -- so close that Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah, the GOP's chief negotiator, had signaled success.
"I now expect we will indeed have a plan that will pass the House, pass the Senate and be signed by the president and bring a sense of certainty to this crisis," Bennett said.
That is of course, until the Gingrich Remnant of the House stepped in at the 11th hour. Both Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Deputy Chief Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia cut their teeth under the confrontational style of Newt Gingrich. And we know Newt once shut down the government because he had to get off at the back of the plane.

The House rump strategy was an insurance plan already rejected by negotiators. What's telling is some of the political calculations that were being made:

But a few blocks away, a senior House Republican lawmaker was at a luncheon with reporters, saying his caucus would never go along with the deal. This Republican said Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the chief deputy whip, was circulating an alternative course that would rely on government-backed insurance, not taxpayer-financed purchase of mortgage assets.

He said the recalcitrant Republicans were calculating that [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, Democrat of California, would not want to leave her caucus politically exposed in an election season by passing a bailout bill without rank-and-file Republican support.

“You can have all the meetings you want,” this Republican said, referring to the White House session with Mr. Bush, the presidential candidates and Congressional leaders, still hours away. “It comes to the floor and the votes aren’t there. It won’t pass.”

The Washington Post account also notes the Cantor plan included, wait for it, tax cuts on dividends and capital gains. Heckuva a way to fund a $700 billion plan!

Country First? What appears to have happened is an attempt by the GOP caucus to put Politics First, to make sure that McCain was in town and could claim he stepped in and brought peace where there had been none.

Of course, accounts suggest a different scenario at the table:
Mr. McCain was at one end of the long conference table, Mr. Obama at the other, with the president and senior Congressional leaders between them. Participants said Mr. Obama peppered [Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson with questions, while Mr. McCain said little...
And perhaps most telling of all, is an exchange between Paulson and Pelosi, which is sure to get great treatment in the made for TV movie of this fiasco:

In the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary ... literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with ... the House Speaker, not to “blow it up” by withdrawing her party’s support for the package over what Ms. Pelosi derided as a Republican betrayal.

“I didn’t know you were Catholic,” Ms. Pelosi said, a wry reference to Mr. Paulson’s kneeling, according to someone who observed the exchange. She went on: “It’s not me blowing this up, it’s the Republicans.”

Mr. Paulson sighed. “I know. I know.”

So what's in store for today? Look for the stock market to tank. After that who knows?

The GOP scenario has St. John riding to the rescue with a plan he dreamed up in his contemplative mood at the table. After announcing his triumph, he boards Straight Talk Air and flies triumphantly to Mississippi where he slays Barack the dragon in debate.

If you believe that script, there's a bridge in Alaska that needs to be built.

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