It took only a few minutes for the blame game to begin. Moments after the House failed to pass the $700 billion bailout plan, the Republican leaders--who could not produce the expected number of Republican votes for the legislation--came before the cameras with an explanation for the bill's collapse: a speech Nancy Pelosi gave.
House minority leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters that prior to the 228-to-205 vote everything was hunky-dory. Then the House Speaker delivered a "partisan speech" before the floor vote began. This, Boehner said, "poisoned our conference and caused a number of members we thought we could get to go south." Representative Eric Cantor, a member of the Republican leadership, held up a transcript of Pelosi's speech and decried her "failure to lead."
What did Pelosi say that was so heinous? Here are some portions from the text that was issued by her office:
When was the last time someone asked you for $700 billion? It is a number that is staggering, but tells us only the costs of the Bush Administration's failed economic policies--policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system....
Over the past several days, we have worked with our Republican colleagues to fashion an alternative to the original plan of the Bush Administration....
Our message to Wall Street is this: the party is over. The era of golden parachutes for high-flying Wall Street operators is over. No longer will the U.S. taxpayer bailout the recklessness of Wall Street. The taxpayers who bear the risk in this recovery must share in the upside as the economy recovers. And should this program not pay for itself, the financial institutions that benefited, not the taxpayers, must bear responsibility for making up the difference. These were the Democratic demands to safeguard the American taxpayer, to help the economy recover, and to impose tough accountability as a central component of this recovery effort.
Today, we will act to avert this crisis, but informed by our experience of the past eight years with the failed economic leadership that has left us left capable of meeting the challenges of the future. We choose a different path. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, we will break free with a failed past and take America in a New Direction to a better future.
Tough stuff, eh? In comments she added to her prepared remarks, she referred to George W. Bush's "reckless economic policies." Even so, the Republicans' excuse--that nasty ol' Pelosi made us do it--is silly. Boehner told reporters that what Republicans care most about is "what's best for the American people." Then how could members of his caucus be swayed by a few partisan words (if they were partisan) from Pelosi? Do they put easily-bruised feelings ahead of important policy matters? As Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the House financial services committee, put it, a number of Republicans simply do not believe in government intervention in markets. He derided Boehner's explanation, characterizing it this way: "Somebody hurt my felelings and I decided to hurt my country." Frank added, "Give me those 12 Republicans [who supposedly would have voted for the bill had it not been for Pelosi's speech], and I will talk uncharacteristically nice to them." (Dozens of House Democrats, bucking Democratic leaders, concluded that this proposed intervention was not a good deal for American taxpayers.)
Meanwhile--with the Dow Jones dropping a historic amount--John McCain's campaign had another explanation for the bill's collapse: it was Barack Obama's fault. A McCain campaign aide told reporters, "It failed because Barack Obama phoned it in." Meaning that Obama did not round up enough Democrats to vote for the legislation. (Ninety-five Democrats opposed the package.) Yet it was McCain's party comrades who voted in higher numbers against the bill. (One hundred and thirty three GOPers said no to the proposal.) Why doesn't that make McCain responsible for the bill's flameout? For his part, Barack Obama released a statement blasting McCain's "angry and hyper-partisan statement."
Maybe the problem was that the bill was not very good and that a bipartisan majority (for very different reasons) couldn't swallow it. Now members of Congress are considering another vote (on what might be another version of the bill) later in the week. In the meantime, expect lots of spin.