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Aftermath

Ross [1] discusses possible scenarios following the failure of the bailout.  The idea that the House GOP can really be blamed (credited?) with the defeat of the bill seems strange to me.  No doubt many people will blame (or credit) the House GOP with defeating it, because far too many on the Democratic side were unwilling to back it without the cover of bipartisanship, but this must be one of the first times I have heard the argument that the minority party in a lower house of the legislature was able to stop a bill when almost a third of its members voted for it.  Obviously, if you think passage was imperative and disaster awaits, the majority of House Republicans would deserve severe criticism along with two-fifths of the Democrats, but this apportioning of blame gets something seriously wrong. 

Whatever Boehner promised to deliver (and if he promised 80 [2], he was just making it up), anyone following the political news from the outside could have told you that he was going to get maybe 45-50.  As it was, he delivered 65, which was a lot more than expected just a day or two ago, and that’s not too bad considering that the Republican conference didn’t hear about the deal from their leaders first before the media were reporting it.  Knowing this, which she should have known, Pelosi should not have scheduled a vote for today.  The markets would have remained edgy, but nothing significant would have happened one way or the other. 

Bringing the bill to the floor when the result was seriously in doubt raised and then brutally dashed expectations, which I imagine contributed to the severity of the decline in the market today.  The Speaker determines what happens in the House, and she has to take the bulk of the responsibility for the success or failure of any legislation that she is promoting.  This is not the same thing as what the GOP leadership is now saying (“Pelosi was mean, so our members had to vote no!”), and that particular line of nonsense deserves to be mocked.  Of course, you can attack the House GOP on the grounds that the bill was actually a good bill and TARP was a good thing to do, but you’ll notice that no one is actually doing that, because even the people crying, “Irresponsible!” know [3] that TARP is a terrible program.  Having called it a “terrible precedent” and “the worst possible course of action,” my Scene colleague Jim Manzi chides the House GOP for not going along with something that he cannot defend.  This is one of the worst cases of do-somethingism I have ever seen.  

I agree with Ezra Klein that we are seeing, in one sense, the “failure of politics” [4] today, but it is not the failure he means.  The failure of politics that culminated in the defeat of the bill was the failure of the proponents of the legislation to make an argument that did not rely very heavily on prophecies of disaster.  There was no real attempt at persuasion, and the haste in which everything was done generated far more intense opposition than was necessary.  The supporters of the bill wanted to ram it through with as little deliberation and scrutiny as possible.  On any other issue, on any other bill, this would be seen as outrageous and you would hear about the wisdom of having a lower chamber that was more responsive to the people.  Now opposition to this hasty adoption of a bad plan is derided as irresponsible [5]

Let me break it down for you: if things are indeed as bad as the proponents say, and if they are the responsible, sober voices of wisdom that they pretend to be, the truly irresponsible thing was to wait up until the last weeks before the recess, rush out a terrible plan, demand immediate adoption of this terrible plan (which they were happy to admit in public was a terrible plan) and then not even correctly gauge the level of support for the legislation before bringing it to a vote.  Calling the question when there likely wasn’t enough support (as opponents of the bill had said yesterday!), if you believe what these people claim to believe, was an act of brazen recklessness.  If they are wrong about the consequences of not adopting this plan, they are merely politically incompetent.

The most amusing reaction to this has come from Kudlow [6], as he says that he would now abandon his support for the bailout if a more liberal version of the bill were introduced to bring more Democrats along and he would opt instead for recapitalizing banks through the FDIC.  That means that there was another way, and one that very few would have balked at supporting.  So now Kudlow will switch to advocating one of the main, plausible alternatives to this horrible, awful, dreadful plan, but only if those nefarious Democrats try to change bankruptcy regulations.  That’s more than a little confusing, since it was just last week that the version proposed by Frank and Dodd already had those provisions and they were scrubbed in the (obviously futile) effort to get more Republican support, but at no point did those provisions push Kudlow into opposition.  Kudlow, of course, endorsed the original Paulson proposal, which was completely indefensible, but if the bill is cluttered up with some liberal vote-buying junk it must now be time for Plan B.  That makes you wonder, especially if the GOP leadership believed that Plan A was terrible, why the Kudlows of the world weren’t advocating some form of this Plan B last week.  Oh, that’s right–they were too busy pushing capital gains-tax cuts and complaining about ACORN.  Remind me again who the responsible people are?

Update: Kling adds [7]:

I see free markets as very much the underdog going forward. But if there is no bailout, then at least markets have a fighting chance. I would want to defeat this particular revolt of the elites, realizing that larger battles probably lie ahead.

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "Aftermath"

#1 Comment By Adam01 On September 29, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

” The Speaker determines what happens in the House, and she has to take the bulk of the responsibility for the success or failure of any legislation that she is promoting.”

Amen to that. Beyond the responsibility factor, how can you fail to do the bare minimum of due diligence and have a whip count of your own party members?

#2 Comment By Adam01 On September 29, 2008 @ 2:11 pm

If there is any good news to come out of this, it was that McCain’s stunt very publically failed.

#3 Pingback By Failures « Upturned Earth || John Schwenkler On September 29, 2008 @ 2:12 pm

[…] [UPDATE: And see Larison: I agree with Ezra Klein that we are seeing, in one sense, the “failure of politics” today, but it is not the failure he means. The failure of politics that culminated in the defeat of the bill was the failure of the proponents of the legislation to make an argument that did not rely very heavily on prophecies of disaster. There was no real attempt at persuasion, and the haste in which everything was done generated far more intense opposition than was necessary. The supporters of the bill wanted to ram it through with as little deliberation and scrutiny as possible. On any other issue, on any other bill, this would be seen as outrageous and you would hear about the wisdom of having a lower chamber that was more responsive to the people. Now opposition to this hasty adoption of a bad plan is derided as irresponsible? […]

#4 Comment By DaveA On September 29, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

Kudlow is a tool. Not that that ought to be news to anyone, but there it is anyhow.

#5 Comment By nathancontramundi On September 29, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

“Remind me again who the responsible people are?”

Daniel, maybe you’ve just been in my beloved Midwest for too long; a year into living inside the Beltway, I’m pretty sure that the word “responsible” just doesn’t belong in our political vocabulary.

#6 Comment By bayesian On September 29, 2008 @ 2:37 pm

Any comment regarding Nate Silver’s observations, most notably that the retiring congressbeings, predominantly Republicans, voted 20-2-1 in favor?

i.e. those who had the least need to pander to voters or campaign contributors strongly favored it, perhaps optimizing their postcongressional lobbying value?

#7 Comment By nhgriffin003 On September 29, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

I’ve heard rumors that McCain is pulling Palin out of the debate due to this market collapse. I kind of saw this coming…

#8 Comment By DaveA On September 29, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

@ bayesian: I agree with the comment (by Joe Klein, I think) that if there is a rookie of the year in political polling reporting this cycle, it’s Silver. And I saw how he nailed the vote down to not only whether or not they were retiring, but whether the GOP congresscritter in question was in a swing state (mostly against) or not (mostly for).

#9 Comment By bayesian On September 29, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

@DaveA

It wasn’t whether the (running for reelection) congressprimate was from a swing state, it was whether they were in a seriously contested race (many of them are not in swing states, just as the swing states contain many safe districts). But again, I found most interesting the retiring ones, who not only don’t face the voters next month but also don’t have to fear a primary challenge in 2010 (it will be _very_ interesting to see who the Club for Growth in particular targets).

But I agree completely with Klein (didn’t see that remark; thanks!). Why people even bother with Politico.com’s projections when we have Nate and Sean I don’t know.

(my main political blog rotation for months has been Eunomia, Fivethirtyeight, Obsidian Wings, and Samefacts – guess I must be an elitist; ‘s OK with me).

#10 Comment By mbtogut On September 29, 2008 @ 4:06 pm

It does seem that Pelosi grossly miscalculated the number of votes she had and should not have brought the measure to the floor until she knew she had the votes she needed. On the plus side, maybe now both sides will sit down and come up with a better, more sober alternative that doesn’t concentrate unprecedented power in the hands of a single, unelected administrative official.

Oh, who am I kidding?

#11 Comment By kitstolz On September 29, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

If public sentiment to Congress was hugely against the bail-out, then don’t we have to blame (or credit) the public for the collapse of the bill?

#12 Comment By Daniel Larison On September 29, 2008 @ 5:44 pm

“If public sentiment to Congress was hugely against the bail-out, then don’t we have to blame (or credit) the public for the collapse of the bill?”

Actually, yes. That really is the main reason the bill failed. It’s good to note that House members in close races voted overwhelmingly against the bill, but the reason they did so is that the bill was overwhelmingly unpopular. That’s why so many safe-seat members also voted against it.

#13 Comment By Username On September 29, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

Am I wrong in wondering if Pelosi and the Dems pushed the plan forward a little too fast, on purpose? It’s a strange thing, since the bailout is a Bush Administration proposal, but I think anything that passes would be a millstone around the necks of the Democrats for at least the midterms.

No matter what Congress does at this point, it will be unpopular. If any bailout plan averts catastrophe, we’ll have no way of knowing how bad it could have been, and probably the best case scenario at this point is a slow, grinding recession.

I thought Pelosi’s speech was obviously driven by this fact, and I wonder if the Democratic party’s actions weren’t as well.

#14 Comment By conradg On September 29, 2008 @ 7:17 pm

If Pelosi is to blame for “miscalculating” the support for the bill, isn’t that really saying that what she did wrong was to believe the Republican leadership’s assurances that they had enough members supporting it to get it passed? In other words, it’s really a way of saying, what an idiot for trusting the words of the Republican leadership! Well, it’s one way to blame Democrats for this fiasco, but it’s hardly the best rationale.

It’s also right to blame/credit the public for this, because their support was not behind the bill. However, that has been changing, and I wonder what the polls will say by the end of the week with the DOW plunging and wiping out their retirements. Oh, right, “comfortable” retirements don’t matter to freedom-loving Republicans anymore. Let’s see how popular that program is come Nov. 4.

#15 Comment By DaveA On September 29, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

@ bayesian: I stand corrected. As to your surfing, I recommend balloon-juice.com as an addition!

#16 Comment By Michael D. On September 29, 2008 @ 8:43 pm

The number of purely unsubstantiated claims in the first two paragraphs here makes this post unreadable.

#17 Comment By Andrew On September 29, 2008 @ 8:51 pm

I dunno. Why is this defeat hung around Pelosi’s neck?

Pelosi could have delivered over 220 votes for a red meat Democratic wish list, a Christmas tree to satisfy every member of their caucus. Damn the minority party! Of course, it wouldn’t have passed the Senate or gotten a Presidential signature, but I’m sure the votes were there in the House for a bill promising Democrats blood in response for the bailout.

But nope, this was a political compromise, built on a foundation laid by the Administration, with very little time for amendment. They thought they had a deal on Thursday, but the House Republicans said no, so the Democrats in the Senate and House went back and renegotiated. And the House Democrats told Boehner and Blunt they might get 125-140 votes, and exceeded that at 145: if the House Republicans had 85, less than half their caucus, the bill would pass.

But the House leadership, and the Republican nominee (a Senator) and the President (a Republican) couldn’t persuade half their caucus to support a bill that the Republican leadership attested was vital. Why is this Nancy Pelosi’s fault?

It was one of the bedrock principles of the deal that it had to be bipartisan in both Houses of Congress. I have no reason to believe the Republican leadership of both Houses of Congress did not act in good faith. Acting in good faith, they told the Democrats “we can deliver a sufficient number of our members with this deal. We may not like it, you may not like it, but we agree it’s the best we can do.” Yet when push came to shove, the Republican leadership in the House of representatives found that its members would not follow their leaders.

Why is that Nancy Pelosi’s and Steny Hoyer’s fault?

#18 Comment By Daniel Larison On September 29, 2008 @ 9:10 pm

She is responsible for bringing it to the floor when she had to know that she didn’t have the votes on her side, and she really should have known Boehner couldn’t deliver as many as he said he could. In the end, she is in charge and bears some responsibility. Is Boehner also responsible? Sure, he is, as is the rest of the House GOP leadership that failed to deliver what it promised.

But, yes, in answer to the question, Pelosi was foolish for believing Boehner if he told her that he could get 80 votes. Bloggers and journalists were reporting all weekend that Republican support for the bill was below 60 votes. I didn’t dig up a link for this because I assumed that was more or less well known at this point. They were lucky to have gotten it to the number that they did. The whining about Pelosi’s “partisan” speech is a way to cover up for their own failure in getting enough votes. It is transparently false, and we all know that, which confirms the earlier reporting that Republican support was always going to be weak. They didn’t bolt at the last minute. Most of them were always against it.

Anyone who finds the posts here unreadable should save themselves the trouble of commenting on things they can’t bear to read.

#19 Comment By Andrew On September 29, 2008 @ 9:48 pm

I’d hate you to think I find your analysis unreadable. Quite the reverse – I find your posts very insightful and interesting. But I hope you don’t find reasoned disagreement beyond the pale.

Sometimes there just isn’t a deal to be done, and that’s obvious. And I’ve been involved in handshake agreements where someone takes the deal back and is told “no, I can’t agree to that” by higher authority.

But this wasn’t a deal where the Democrats were desperate to get it done because it was their deepest, most cherished wish, and they fooled themselves into thinking they’d get what they wanted.

The argument that “it was well known that Republican support was below 60 votes” would have meant that the leaders introduced the bill in the near certainty that it would fail. I doubt that Pelosi/Hoyer and Boehner/Blunt thought this – I think the GOP leaders suggested that they had 80 or so they could count on, and might get it to 90. I don’t know that they’d have shared the names, but the Democrats would have thought (a) their counterparts can count heads and (b) if it’s close some arms can be twisted or side deals done. I guess both were surprised at how few House Republicans were prepared to hold their noses.

#20 Comment By Daniel Larison On September 29, 2008 @ 10:26 pm

Thanks, Andrew. The remark about unreadable posts was directed to the commenter before you, and does not refer to anything else. I am very glad to have reasoned disagreement here, and I don’t mind it in the least. Sometimes I can reply a bit harshly, but I’m always glad to have opposing views.

I’m not sure what the leadership thought, but when you have news reports in The Hill with opponents of the bill saying on the record that the leadership doesn’t have the votes that should have set off alarms that whatever the leaders thought they knew may have been wrong. Did members of both conferences lie to their leaders, say that they would support the measure and then back away at the last minute? Maybe, but the more straightforward explanation seems to me to be that the leaders didn’t really believe that their members would vote against something that was, at least according to them, going to save the country from doom. They may have thought that putting it to a vote would put people on the spot and force them to set aside their objections. If so, they were clearly wrong.

#21 Comment By conradg On September 30, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

Daniel,

If you are right that the Republican leaders knew they didn’t have the votes, and knowingly lied to Pelosi that they did, doesn’t that mean it was all a setup? That the Republican leadeship decided to lie to Pelosi, lead her to think she had enough votes to pass the bill, and then pull the rug out from under her in order to embarrass the Democrats and create a giant national emergency? I’m not sure how else to interpret it, if you are right about the underlying facts.

Also, it’s kind of interesting that you think Pelosi should consider the opinions of bloggers about the number of votes available for the bailout as more reliable than the Republican leadership of the house. What does that say about the Republican leadership?

#22 Comment By Daniel Larison On September 30, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

I think it gives them far too much credit, if that’s the right word, to imagine that it was a set-up. That imputes a degree of cleverness, however cynical, to them that I don’t think they possess.

Of course, I’m speculating a bit about how it unfolded, but the highest figure on Republican votes for this bill I have seen in any reporting has been 75, and that was the number that the minority whip said that they could get. If Boehner promised Pelosi more than that, he was exaggerating the level of support; my guess is that it was never really as high as 75. If the whip thought that it was, I am guessing members who said they would back it ended up flipping at the last minute. In any case, 75 doesn’t get the job done if the Democrats are delivering 140. It could be that the earlier reports of a lower number were wrong and more members signed on over the weekend, but it seems to me that if I was aware of these stories in The Hill and elsewhere the people whose job it was to tally votes and make sure the thing passed should have known it, too.