Six days of contentious negotiations looked like they were just about to culminate in a bailout proposal that House Democrats, Senate Democrats, and Senate Republicans didn't necessarily love, but could at least shudder equally at, when things came to a screeching halt courtesy of everyone's favorite screechers, House Republicans.
The result was a chaotic turnaround on a day that had seemed headed for a success that President Bush, both political parties and their presidential candidates could celebrate at an extraordinary White House meeting.Weary congressional negotiators worked into the night, joined by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in an effort to revive or rework the $700 billion proposal that Bush said must be quickly approved by Congress to stave off potentially "a long and deep recession."They gave up after 10 p.m. EDT, more than an hour after the lone House Republican involved, Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, left the room. Democrats blamed the House Republicans for the apparent stalemate.
Well, it did take John McCain a while to actually make it to Washington, but since he suspended his campaign and all to--how did he put it? Ah, yes, to "meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans" and solve the crisis. Things must have gotten better when he finally did show up to exercise some bipartisan leadership in that meeting he ordered up with Bush and Obama, right? Right?
At the bipartisan White House meeting that Mr. McCain had called for a day earlier, he sat silently for more than 40 minutes, more observer than leader, and then offered only a vague sense of where he stood, said people in the meeting.
In subsequent television interviews, Mr. McCain suggested that he saw the bipartisan plan that came apart at the White House meeting as the proper basis for an eventual agreement, but he did not tip his hand as to whether he would give any support to the alternative put on the table by angry House Republicans, with whom he had met before going to the White House.
He said he was hopeful that a deal could be struck quickly and that he could then show up for his scheduled debate on Friday night against his Democratic rival in the presidential race, Senator Barack Obama. But there was no evidence that he was playing a major role in the frantic efforts on Capitol Hill to put a deal back together again.
Oh. I've seen mutterings that Bachus' walkout was actually orchestrated by McCain so that he could swoop in and save the day with his own top-secret bailout plan, but the only competing proposal put forth thus far has been written by ten House Republicans shepherded by John Boehner, and which would appear to have less than a snowball's chance at passing.
Instead of the government buying the distressed securities, the new plan would have banks, financial firms and other investors that hold such loans pay the Treasury to insure them. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a chief sponsor, said it was clear that Bush's plan "was not going to pass the House."But Democrats said the same was true of the conservatives' plan. It calls for tax cuts and insurance provisions the majority party will not accept, they said.
At one point, several minutes into the session, Obama said it was time to hear from McCain. According to a Republican who was there, "all he said was, 'I support the principles that House Republicans are fighting for.'"
So a guy who has admitted he does not understand the details of the economy injects himself into proceedings he realistically has no business in, all in the name of bipartisanship and country first, and winds up in the corner of the guys who end up derailing what looked like an agreement on the first steps out of the mess.
Ah, it was just announced he'll go ahead and do the debate tonight, and we can assume Jim Lehrer will steer things much more toward the economy than had been originally planned. Maybe McCain realized that insisting on skipping the debate would only tie more anvils to his sinking ship. The ploy might have worked if he somehow had managed to at least present the image of leadership he inexplicably claimed in an area that is clearly outside of his expertise, unless he's finally ready to own that Keating Five line on his resume, but once his theatrical flouncing buildup fizzled into 40 minutes of silence in his showpiece meeting, well, that about did it. So stock up the cooler and ready your debate bingo cards. Obama has to recognize that the guy's on the ropes, and better come out swinging. Despite McCain's blunder, and, actually, because of it, this is a moment that has to be seized. Carpe that diem, Barack. You won't have a better chance.