First There Is a Bailout, Then There Is No Bailout, Then There Is
By Lee Russ
Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 08:23 PM
It was a very strange, extremely political, day. It started with Senator Chris Dodd saying: that Dems and Repubs had "reached a fundamental agreement on a set of principles," By the end of the White House meeting, however, it was obvious that (a) there was no agreement and (b) House Republicans had their own version of a plan which apparently had little to do with the plan that had been discussed up until then. Even before the meeting, Barney Frank accused McCain of , according to the Washington Post, "undermining the [current] proposal and prodding House Republicans to lay out a wholly different approach that is opposed by the White House."After the White House meeting, all semblance of agreement and bipartisanship seemed to have disappeared. Dodd appeared very frustrated and pretty ticked off at McCain as he spoke to CNN. He particularly objected to Republicans new last minute plan, which had apparently not been shown to any of the Dems before the White House meeting, although Republican staffers acknowledged that the idea had been around at least since yesterday. Dodd said "What this looked like to me was a rescue plan for John McCain for two hours and took us away from the work we are trying to do today."
If, like Dodd, you don't really understand what the big "bicameral, bipartisan" bailout meeting at the White House was supposed to accomplish, you're not alone. That was the subject of several questions to Press Secretary Dana Perino at the start of this morning's White House press briefing. And boy, was Perino ever in fine doubletalk mode. See if you can possibly follow this exchange:
Q Is it a fair statement to say that actually this idea where everybody is sitting down -- bicameral, bipartisan, Obama, McCain -- that starts with Senator McCain?Sounds to me like a deliberate ambush. Let Dodd and Frank talk about a pending agreement, create your own plan but don't show it to any Dems, show up at the meeting with your own very different plan, and let the Dems look like fools. Then John McCain can march in, smooth a few feathers, take credit for the compromise, and appear bipartisanly effective as he poses for photo after photo.
MS. PERINO: Senator McCain is the one who called for the meeting and we thought that it was a good idea. And I think that everybody who is coming today thinks that it was -- it's a good idea. But certainly I would say that members from both sides of the aisle and both Houses of Congress and both of the candidates have recognized the urgency with which we need to move, and they've been trying to work together. So if this meeting can help bring it to conclusion, that will help us, too.
Q How could it? How could it help bring it to a conclusion?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that having everybody on the same page and here, airing out the final issues that we have to deal with could help us finalize it and get it to a vote.
Q But you just said you don't know if you'll have a deal before the meeting or directly after, but it sounds like we're talking imminent here.
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't say that. I think it's impossible to say. I wouldn't say that we could get one before or after; I just don't know. What I do know is that it is urgent that we get it done.
Q But, Dana, is that not happening on the Hill? You say it's important to get everyone in the room, everyone on the same page, air out the differences. Is that not happening in the meetings on the Hill?
MS. PERINO: No, I think it is, and that's why -- that's part of the legislative process. And the President now can bring everybody together after they've hashed through a lot of the issues and had their hearings and invited our -- members of the administration to come up, talk with them. We've been in the room, working with staff on details of the legislation, accepting some of their recommendations, pushing back on others.
For example, on executive compensation, I think we all understand the sentiment that executives should not have a windfall based on something that was a failure. And so -- but Secretary Paulson knows how important it is to get those details exactly right, so he's trying to work on the language so it would be what we -- enough of what we need in order to get the legislation done, and in a way that will protect the taxpayers. So those are -- that's one of the things that we're working on.
So we can do that up on the Hill. But I think this meeting is a way to bring everybody together, bring all the pieces together, everyone in one room with the President of the United States, who gave an address to the nation last night to talk about how dire the situation is and how we need to move urgently. And he's really appreciative of the bipartisan cooperation that we've had so far.
Q Dana, this sounds like a negotiating meeting at 4:00 p.m. Is it?
MS. PERINO: I didn't describe it that way, and I think that we need to let the meeting take place, and then I'll describe it for you. I don't know exactly how the meeting is going to play out.
Q Is that the intent?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think we just need to see. I think it depends on progress that has been made up on the Hill up to now. And so with members of Congress meeting as we speak behind closed doors, I think it's just too early to say.
Q Should we expect to hear from the McCain, as well as Bush during the meeting?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. You mean during the -- at the pool at the top? I don't know. I'll check.
Q Dana, you seem to be indicating that a deal is close. Nancy Pelosi just spoke; she seemed to indicate the same thing. But just this morning, John McCain gives the sense that the deal is all but dead. Which is it?
MS. PERINO: I think that we've made significant progress. We're -- have a framework that we can try to close on, and we hope that we can get it done quickly. I think that it's in everyone's best interest for us to get it done.
This is where Wall Street intersects with Main Street. And we have a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time. And we really appreciate the cooperation that we've had from the candidates, from the leaders and from the chairmen, who have worked tirelessly over the past several days. This is to help not just financial institutions, but to help every single American, when it comes to their retirement accounts, college loans, their car loans, their homes, their very existence -- this is what we're trying to protect.
Q But why would he say that it's stalling, that it's not going anywhere, and then the White House saying just the opposite?
MS. PERINO: I did not say it was the opposite. I said we are driving to a conclusion, we have a framework that we're moving forward. And I haven't seen his comments, and maybe he has information that I don't have that makes him think that this deal is almost dead. But I can tell you that members of Congress have been working together. I think if you have to look at other people's comments, that they understand the urgency.
Obviously, there's a lot of questions, and there should be. We should be held accountable, as should the members of Congress, for lots of different questions that members of Congress's constituents are asking them. But I think that everybody is going to -- coming to a place where they can get together this afternoon and, hopefully, close on a framework where we can get this legislation passed.
I think it's really important that we do it as quickly as possible. If you look at the credit markets that tightened up overnight, Secretary Paulson is extremely concerned about that situation. And I think it underscores the importance of moving quickly.
Will there be a bailout?
Will they try to get Wall Streeters to accomplish the same thing via private investment?
If so, will they use this as an excuse to do away with still more taxes on rich folks?
Will McCain ever debate Obama?
Will Palin ever...do anything but look at Russia from the borders of Alaska?
Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment of "As the Worms Turn." Scheduled episode: "Worms Turn While Citizens Burn."