Thursday, September 25, 2008

That Was the Deal That Was(n't)?

We are now a sufficient distance from the initial "breaking news" of a bailout agreement to have a better sense of where things stand; and Associated Press writers Jennifer Loven and Julie Hirschfeld Davis have done as good a job as any of providing us with an orientation. The first red flag goes up in their second paragraph when the very first sentence of that paragraph refers to the "tentative accord." Of course nothing is final before votes are taken, but it is still worth noting that cautious language early and often is the order of the day in this particular report. It remains unclear just what is in this accord. However, Loven and Davis seem to have tapped into the heart of the Congressional input:

Under the plan agreed to by key lawmakers at the Capitol, the Treasury secretary would get $250 billion immediately and could have an additional $100 billion if he certified it was needed, congressional aides said. The last $350 billion could be blocked by a vote of Congress under the arrangement, designed to give lawmakers a stronger hand in controlling the unprecedented rescue.

Listening to the BBC on the way back to San Francisco from Palo Alto, I got the distinct impression that there was more than this; but I also got the impression that both the Executive and Legislative branches are trying to limit the flow of information to the press until matters are better defined. That would make this day rather a first for trappings of harmony. Not only have those two branches finally agreed on something; but also we had a "seriously bipartisan" meeting at the White House at which both Presidential candidates were present. However, little is known about that meeting either, although Loven and Davis tried hard to mine what they could:

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, who have both sought to distance themselves from the unpopular Bush, sat down with the president at the White House for an hourlong afternoon session that was striking in this brutally partisan season and apparently without precedent. By also including Congress' Democratic and Republican leaders, the meeting gathered nearly all Washington's political power structure at one long table in a small West Wing room.

"All of us around the table ... know we've got to get something done as quickly as possible," Bush told reporters, brought in for only the start of the meeting. Obama and McCain were at distant ends of the oval table, not even in each other's sight lines. Bush, playing host in the middle, was flanked by Congress' two Democratic leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

No one else spoke before the cameras left.

Unfortunately, none of these intimations of harmony have yet propagated to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue:

There were signs that the conservative-leaning House Republican Caucus was not on board. Both of Congress' Republican leaders, Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell, issued statements saying there was not yet an agreement.

This makes for major data in the context of Pelosi's claim that she is not going to move energetically on any plan that does not have solid Republican support. Furthermore, while first word of the "agreement" was delivered by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, his Republican counterpart, Richard Shelby, emerged from that same White House meeting and said, "I don't believe we have an agreement."

Most disappointing is that Dodd seems to have dropped his rhetoric about how doing things right is more important than doing them quickly. As far as the reporters were concerned, time was of the greatest essence, which may be true; but it could be just as true that Bush is still trying to get his way through "shock doctrine" sky-is-falling rhetoric. The problem is that all of the language in the Loven-Davis report was about Wall Street; and I, for one, do not think that Main Street is going to come away with any feeling other than that of being victimized (yet again?). To invoke my favorite metaphor, this opera is far from over; and, from where I am sitting in the auditorium, the fat lady is nowhere in sight.

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