The Campaign Spot

The Bailout/Rescue Bill As a Game of Chicken

I recently wrote to a couple of other bright righties that I suspect that most everybody on Capitol Hill has made similar calculations…
1) The bill has to pass, or some legislation in this ballpark has to pass, or the markets will tumble (yes, I know they’re up today)* and there will be far-reaching ramifications, further bank failures, etc.
2) The public sees the bill as Uncle Sam taking money off the printing press and giving it to the guy in the top hat from Monopoly, who laughs it up with Gordon Gekko while drinking gin and tonics at the Polo match. If you’re a talk radio host who wants to get callers vibrating with fury, this makes the amnesty bill look like a minor disagreement over zoning laws. I’d say liberal bloggers are particularly furious about this, but it is no longer possible to measure their anger with any human metrics. The bases of both parties loathe the bill.
(I eagerly await the declaration, “In the fine print of this bill, it brings back the practice of primae noctus, which allows any Wall Street trader or corporate CEO to sleep with your daughter on her wedding night. Folks, we just can’t let this kind of a bailout pass.”)
3) So everybody in Congress wants it to pass without being the ones on the hook for it. Everybody wants the other guy to pass it, and be free to denounce and demagogue the thing every day from now to Election Day. For this reason, McCain and Obama have been lukewarm on this from the beginning. The Senate vote is going to be high noon, as the politically winning vote for each candidate is to vote ‘no,’ but they also don’t want to be seen as the guy who killed the rescue.
4) Barack Obama wants to leave no fingerprints on this bill; beyond that, he’s bizarrely disinterested in the fact that Congress is spending all the money he was going to spend on health care, infrastructure, alternative energy, rainbows, unicorns, gifts for Ahmadinejad, etc.
5) John McCain is reverting to his instincts — bipartisanship is good, partisanship is bad, we have to control spending, did you hear about the money to research bear DNA in Alaska? etc. He’s not getting out and explaining why the bill is necessary, I suspect, because he isn’t really sure it’s necessary.
6) Obama may be particularly unconvinced of the necessity of the bill or the need to pass it now. After all, there’s a better-than-even chance he’ll have much more ability to shape the solution starting January 20. Perhaps most disturbingly, he seems to think he’ll be just fine taking office as the country hits the deepest recession in a generation…

Then again, maybe a lot of Democrats buy into the Borosage line that Depressions have some salutary effects” and that the political upside means letting the economy fall fast and hard is the best course of action…
UPDATE: A reader objects to my confident assertion that the market will tumble without some legislative effort to get the toxic assets off the books of financial institutions. Fine. The markets may tumble.
Biggest rally in six years today. Nice to see, but I wonder how the market reacts if the message is not, “the bill failed this time” and the message is, “The bill failed and another attempt will not come.”

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