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McCain Camp Takes Credit for Advancing - and Killing - Bailout

September 25, 2008

While the post-mortem on Thursday's collapse of the bipartisan Wall Street bailout deal is still being written, one aspect of John McCain's double-dealing is beyond dispute. According to campaign mouthpieces Tucker Bounds and Lindsey Graham, John McCain is responsible both for moving the $700 billion compromise package forward and for killing it.
That act of political schizophrenia took only hours to accomplish. Early Thursday, Democrats led by Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) announced that a consensus deal had been reached. That package featured concessions by President Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson on CEO pay, equity shares for taxpayers, mortgage assistance and phased funding.
And despite the fact that the preliminary agreement occurred before John McCain even arrived in Washington Thursday, his spokesman Tucker Bounds claimed his man deserved the credit for it. Though McCain played no role in the Dodd/Franks initiative then on the brink of success, Bounds declared:

"Before John McCain suspended his campaign yesterday, the situation that we're looking at today looked very different then. After he showed leadership and called for bipartisanship, for us to partisanship aside and tackle this solution head on, here we are."

But by Thursday evening, the accord lay in ruins. Thanks to the combined incoherence of John McCain and the intransigence of House Republicans, the deal struck between the White House and Senate leaders of both parties was scuttled. According to his water carrier Lindsey Graham (R-SC), what John McCain giveth, John McCain taketh away. As Politico detailed Thursday night:

Sen. Lindsey Graham - one of John McCain's closest Senate allies - just told reporters at the Capitol: "The Paulson plan is dead."
It wasn't clear whether Graham meant the $700 billion plan Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson proposed earlier this week or the modified, compromise plan congressional negotiators came up with Thursday afternoon. But no matter -- Graham said both plans are "going nowhere."

As the talks broke down in Washington, Marc Ambinder's prediction - that McCain would try to bolster his populist façade by opposing the very deal he exerted such pressure to see produced seemed to be coming to pass. The McCain campaign issued a statement declaring:

"The plan that has been put forth by the administration does not enjoy the confidence of the American people as it will not protect the taxpayers and will sacrifice Main Street in favor of Wall Street."

And so it is that John McCain might yet hit the trifecta with what most observers rightly deemed a political stunt. As with the AIG rescue, McCain's just-in-time reversal will incur him no penalty. As with Hurricane Gustav and the GOP convention, McCain will try to take politics out of an area of glaring weakness for him and his Republican Party. And despite his transparently cynical ploy in threatening to skip Friday's debate, John McCain will once again claim to be the white knight, the hero of main street America.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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