Tuesday, September 30, 2008

GOP "Nilhilists" Sink Bailout Bill

We spent some time tracking down first-hand reports from anyone who could bear witness to what really happened on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday when the bipartisan credit crisis bailout bill failed. Democrats delivered on their promise to hold their collective noses and deliver more than one-half of the total votes necessary; Republicans broke their promise to deliver the rest from their own members.

C-Span isn't permitted, by House rules, to show anything except blowhard congress-persons making wind for the camera. Most of the cable Tee-Vee political reporters, who have to travel with camera crews, customarily are kept off the House floor and had to hang around the cloakrooms. So, they could share only second- and third-hand spin stories.

But on Jim Lehrer's News Hour, the New York Times' John Shaw saw it with his own eyes:
Well, it was very interesting, because it's hard to know really how each party does their whipping operations, getting votes, but the Democratic side was much more active.

The speaker was right in the middle of it. There were swarms of people around her. They were feeding her notes. She was carefully monitoring the vote. She was sending emissaries over to the Republican side.

On the Republican side -- and, again, they may do it differently -- but the minority leader, John Boehner, was pretty much alone. It didn't seem like many people wanted to talk to him. Roy Blunt, the whip, was pretty much standing off by himself. His deputy, Mr. Cantor, was also pretty quiet.

So visually it looked like the Democrats were working harder. And at one point, Pelosi looked over and saw that not a lot of movement was going on that side. And she just said, in a very loud voice, "We're finished," which signaled that she was done trying to get more Democrats to vote for the package.

Boehner's peculiar quiescence inspired Rachel Maddow of MSNBC to ask a follow-up question -- "Who leads the Republican Party right now?" She came up with a surprising answer: the aforesaid "pretty quiet" Eric Cantor (R-Va), who is Assistant Minority Whip in charge of rounding up votes for the 'lonely' John Boehner.

Even conservative columnist David Brooks is disgusted by the Republicans' behavior:

House Republicans led the way and will get most of the blame. It has been interesting to watch them on their single-minded mission to destroy the Republican Party. Not long ago, they led an anti-immigration crusade that drove away Hispanic support. Then, too, they listened to the loudest and angriest voices in their party, oblivious to the complicated anxieties that lurk in most American minds.

Now they have once again confused talk radio with reality. If this economy slides, they will go down in history as the Smoot-Hawleys of the 21st century. With this vote, they’ve taken responsibility for this economy, and they will be held accountable. The short-term blows will fall on John McCain, the long-term stress on the existence of the Republican Party.
Brooks holds out hope that some cosmetic changes might make the bill more palatable to Republicans on a second go-around to pass the bill, probably on Thursday. Possibly so, but it seems to us it will be even more difficult to talk anyone who voted "no" yesterday into voting "yes" tomorrow.

How much more embarrassing, and difficult for constituents to swallow, would it be for a congressman -- say, like the hapless Jeff Miller -- to vote for the bailout bill after voting against it? Inescapably, such a vote would mean the congressman voted at least once this week against the national interest.

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