McCain gambles with the U.S. economy; House Republicans hold the bailout hostage; chaos reigns
Yes, yes, I know the financial crisis is not strictly a green issue — except insofar as it dries up capital desperately needed for green investments — but I just have to put some kind of note on record here. This is the most bizarre political season in memory, and the last few days have taken it to new realms entirely.
So there’s this crisis, right? Bush, Paulson, and most of the Congressional leadership seem focused on taking immediate action to bail banks out before a cascading crash. Some Democrats push back and demand taxpayer equity and oversight. Paulson says fine. Early today, there are reports that a bipartisan plan has been hashed out and is basically ready to go.
Enter John McCain. This drama, like everything in his world, is all about him. He’ll ride to the rescue at the last minute. He "suspends" his campaign (though ads have run all day in numerous states, his surrogates are all over the place attacking Obama, and he gave interviews to every network tonight) and begs out of Friday’s debate. Today, he parachutes into D.C. for a meeting he specifically asked the White House to convene.
At the meeting, he doesn’t take a stand or lay out any clear sense of what he’ll do — he just speaks up vaguely about an alternative plan the House Republicans have put together. (The House Republican plan is universally derided as a joke — it centrally involves, and I’m not kidding, tax cuts for the rich.) That’s just enough to throw everything off the rails. Now what had been a reasonably bipartisan effort has become bitter and divided. There’s no plan, and nobody knows when there will be one. McCain’s sole effect was to empower the House Republicans. Look:
In the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with Nancy Pelosi, 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.”
House Republicans have their reasons for tacking against this bailout — they’re catching hell from constituents — but trying to gain political advantage for McCain was one of those reasons:
Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Senate banking committee, denounced the session as “a rescue plan for John McCain,” and proclaimed it a waste of precious hours that could have been spent negotiating.
But a top aide to Mr. Boehner said it was Democrats who had done the political posturing. The aide, Kevin Smith, said Republicans revolted, in part, because they were chafing at what they saw as an attempt by Democrats to jam through an agreement on the bailout early Thursday and deny Mr. McCain an opportunity to participate in the agreement.
Got that? Getting it done quickly amounts to leaving little Johnny out, and we can’t have that. He’s the hero, dammit!
Then again, give them their due. They do seem willing to accept the consequences:
According to one GOP lawmaker, some House Republicans are saying privately that they’d rather “let the markets crash” than sign on to a massive bailout.
“For the sake of the altar of the free market system, do you accept a Great Depression?” the member asked.
Now the country’s economy is teetering on collapse. Nobody knows if there will be a debate on Friday. It’s chaos. Nobody has any idea what the political fallout will be.
For my part, I remain stunned — and I thought at this point I was beyond being stunned — by the sheer narcissistic vainglory of John McCain. This kind of impulsive gambling with a situation this serious …
We live in strange, strange times.