The word on the politics of the deal is this—Congressional leaders had come to an understanding whereby “safe” members of both parties (those not facing a serious challenge in November) would vote for the bailout and endangered members of both parties would be able to vote against if they chose. For the most part the Democratic breakdown proceeded as anticipated. The Republican caucus, on the other hand, does not seem to have delivered the expected “yea” votes. So, strictly speaking, GOP defections were the proximate cause of the defeat. Whether it will appear that way to voters, amid so complex a legislative scenario, is unclear.
The Democrats are screaming about a GOP conspiracy: that sounds very unlikely to me. Hours before the vote their Presidential candidate Senator John McCain announced that the Republican Party would support the bill and promoted himself on the basis of his ability to unite his party for a bi-partisan solution:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his top aides took credit for building a winning bailout coalition – hours before the vote failed and stocks tanked.
The rush to claim he had engineered a victory now looks like a strategic blunder that will prolong the McCain’s campaign’s difficulty in finding a winning message on the economy.
Shortly before the vote, McCain had bragged about his involvement and mocked Sen. Barack Obama for staying on the sidelines.
“I’ve never been afraid of stepping in to solve problems for the American people, and I’m not going to stop now,” McCain told a rally in Columbus, Ohio. “Senator Obama took a very different approach to the crisis our country faced. At first he didn’t want to get involved. Then he was monitoring the situation.”
The House Republicans just totally screwed their presidential candidate. Nobody does that on purpose. I guess the plan was to have the vote pass by one vote – just enough republican support to get it through and avoid the financial meltdown we just saw – but passed by a vast majority of democrats so that the republican candidates in unsafe seats can go into their re-election campaigns having opposed the unpopular bill. The simplest explanation for what just happened is that the GOP house whips screwed up. Oops.
In retrospect the bill suddenly looks like a good idea – a lot of US voters just watched a good chunk of their retirement savings vanish in a little less than three hours – and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an amended bill introduced later this week and comfortably pass with bi-partisan support.
Senator McCain can still probably recover from this, but it makes the third or fourth major blunder this month that he can probably recover from. At some point he needs to stop blundering and start recovering.