Was the Bailout Vote a Partisan Set-Up?

Nancy Pelosi must be the most ineffective House Speaker of modern times. The Democrats have achieved virtually nothing since taking control of the House and Senate in 2006, and have consistently avoided the responsibility that goes with being the majority party. Which may explain why, until very recently, most Americans were unaware that the Democrats were actually in control of Congress.

Pelosi’s ineffectiveness has been due, in part, to her unrelenting and strident partisanship, which brings us to today’s vote on the bailout bill: suspicion is growing that Pelosi and the Democrats made no serious effort to pass the bill, and that it failed at least in part because Pelosi tried to misuse it for political advantage.

Everyone has heard about the weirdly partisan and inaccurate rant which Pelosi contributed to the debate on the bailout bill. But that speech did not take place in a vacuum. Public opinion is running strongly against the bill, and it required political courage to vote for it. If you look at the list of those who voted “No” in both parties, it is mostly members who are engaged in tough re-election campaigns. This is true on both sides of the aisle.

That being the case, and given the fact that the legislation was in fact a negotiated, bipartisan compromise, the first duty of the majority party is to line up its members to support the majority’s bill. But evidence is growing that the Democrats did no such thing.

As of yesterday, the Democrats’ House whip, Jim Clyburn said that he hadn’t even begun “whipping” Democratic representatives, and wouldn’t do so unless and until he got orders from Nancy Pelosi. Today, Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio told NPR that he never was “whipped” on the bill. So Pelosi evidently left Democrats to vote their consciences–which is to say, vote against the bill if they thought it was politically necessary–while counting on Republicans to put the bill over the top.

This is a classic Charlie Brown and the football maneuver. Pelosi gives a speech that frames the issue, falsely, as the result of bad Republican policies, then allows her own threatened representatives to do the popular thing while expecting Republicans to take one for the team by casting an unpopular vote. Which, of course, their Democratic opponents would use against them, thereby increasing the Democratic majority in the House.

If this was Pelosi’s plan it failed, in part, perhaps, because her over-the-top partisan diatribe tipped off Republicans as to what was afoot. If, as it now appears, it’s true that the Democrats made no serious effort to pass the bailout bill, it is just one more example of the failure of leadership we have seen since they took control of Congress.

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