What was at 1 p.m. yesterday a “fundamental agreement on a set of principles” became, by yesterday evening, a bloodbath of partisan politics, which once again took precedence over the interests of the American people. And at the center of all this mess was the heroic savior of the economy, America’s patron saint who beneficently champions the cause of “country first” – John McCain.
Whether or not you agreed with the bailout plan, you have to ask yourself – since we are in the middle of a (allegedly suspended) presidential campaign where one candidate valiantly stated that he’d put securing a swift resolution of the sudden economic crisis ahead of getting elected – why the “fundamental agreement” fell apart. The answer is simple: John McCain came to town.
The timeline is clear. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post report that at 1 p.m. yesterday senior congressional leadership in both the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees announced a bipartisan agreement on a set of principles that they were confident would become legislation passable within days. Senator Robert Bennett, a Republican and the chief Senate negotiator for the Republicans, said he was confident that “we will indeed have a plan that will pass the House, pass the Senate and be signed by the president and bring a sense of certainty to this crisis.” That was bipartisanship; that was putting the American people first and leaving political posturing at the door in what Bennett described as “one of the most productive sessions…I have participated in since I have been in the Senate.”
But, apparently, House Republican Leader John Boehner and Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) – who attended the negotiation sessions – had other ideas. While Democrats and Republicans were reaching a bipartisan compromise at the Capital, Bachus was having breakfast with two McCain advisors, continuing discussion of the details of an alternative proposal that the negotiators apparently knew nothing about. The breakfast came after a Wednesday call between Bachus and McCain. Bachus then had a follow-up conversation with McCain immediately after the negotiation session. Bachus said this alternative proposal had McCain’s support, a fact which Bachus and Boehner apparently knew as early as Wednesday but never bothered to tell their fellow Republicans in the Banking and Financial Services committees. In fact, unbeknownst to the Bush Administration and to Democratic and Republican leadership in the negotiation sessions, this alternative had gotten so much support among what the Washington Post described as a “renegade bloc of Republicans” that McCain, as he would later tell ABC, knew going into the 4 p.m. White House meeting that “there was never a deal.”
McCain, however, rather than try to stave off the embarrassment of a public fallout at the meeting and a negotiation-choking breakdown in trust among Democrats and Republicans needed for further negotiations, chose to keep that sentiment to himself. In fact, it was not until the White House meeting that anyone outside of McCain and his cadre of Republican supporters even heard about this new proposal (a proposal which, by the way, Paulson and Bernanke had earlier considered and rejected). Even President Bush was “surprised and angered” by the development. Once the meeting got underway, Boehner – to the surprise of many in the room (except McCain) – declared that he had a “caucus” and that it did not support the plan put forth by Paulson.
Boehner’s alternative was met with intense questions from Obama and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and was rejected outright by Bush and Paulson. McCain, however, seeing a cataclysm emerge in the negotiations that he’d apparently flown in on his white chariot to save, declined to take a stand. At the one moment when McCain could have proven himself presidential – indeed at the moment that McCain could have demonstrated that he did not “suspend” his campaign as a Hail Mary pass to revitalize it – McCain chose not to take the lead and take a position that could have saved the negotiations. Even the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder, whose report McCain put forth as an accurate depiction of what took place, wondered “if not to get these recalcitrant Republicans on board, why did McCain go to Washington in the first place?”
The answer, Mr. Ambinder, is clear. McCain went to Washington not to help bring consensus to his Party, but rather to try and once again reinvent himself and revitalize his campaign by painting himself as the great deregulator who put forth a plan that stood up to those pesky “socialist” Democrats and the backward Bush Administration. Translation: McCain is once again the “maverick” who represents a change from Bush policies. By declining to take a stand at the meeting, he’s trying to preserve an argument in case this mumbo-jumbo doesn’t fly. At this point, McCain is as transparent as the air on a crisp winter morning. He doesn’t care about this country or even his own Party (what McCain and Boehner did at the meeting was akin to a coup d’état). All McCain cares about is winning this election, and to achieve that aim a divided Republican Party – and the suffering of millions of Americans in the economic collapse that is certain to come if these stall tactics continue – is a small price to pay.