Bailout Still in Trouble

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As my Hill friend said yesterday, the bailout seems to be in more trouble than some earlier reports indicated. My two cent summary of his take, which is worth reading, was that there is a seriously underestimated gap between the White House and Congressional leadership on one side, and the Congressional rank and file on the other; and that the media reports suggesting a deal was imminent by and large were being informed by the former, who are more committed to a quick deal; while the Congressional rank and file is more informed by being overwhelmed with thousands of calls from screaming constituents who are truly outraged over the prospect of a bailout of Wall Street fat cats. Vulnerable incumbents may not feel they can vote for anything resembling a bailout until after the election.

Here’s his latest:

My take is that the politics are way more scrambled than anyone can get a handle on. Basically, Bush and the congressional Democratic leaders have a straightforward objective and agenda – getting a modified Paulson plan cobbled together and then, via consensus, passed and made law. Apart from that, though, there are many actors with many different objectives – both policy-wise and purely politically – and these cannot be arrayed along any single dimension, or even in any easy way at all. There are just many cross-cutting objectives, forces and circumstances, so the whole situation is probably too complex to strategize about, apart from the first group who have a strategy for achieving their objective. I don’t think McCain has a clear sense of what his strategy is, and he is not trying to manipulate the situation – or not successfully – because he does not have any mastery of it (not because he doesn’t want to). (Probably worth adding in that it is doubtful McCain has any policy convictions at all on this set of issues, at least in this context, since his historical positions are simply unacceptable in the current debate.).

Let me add that yet another peculiarity of the situation is that while, on the one hand, the House Republicans’ alternative plan is laughable as a matter of policy – just laughable – they are alone in tapping into the widespread rage out there at the very idea of a gigantic bailout for Wall Street malefactors. Many House Democrats are feeling the same, but they have no representation at the table. So the House Republicans are, in some funny sense, sitting pretty politically.

And finally, watching the coverage remains quite weird, because there is this enduring assumption that a deal is going to be done, that it will be, fundamentally, Paulson’s plan with modifications, and that that is the right thing. That may partly reflect the fact that everyone realizes we are at a dangerous moment. But I can’t help but think it also reflects the fact that by and large the class of people in and driving the press coverage is completely disconnected from the perspective of people who are overwhelming, in a completely uncoordinated way, virtually every congressional office.

So it is a very very weird moment.

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