Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain pulled off the presidential campaign trail just long enough on Wednesday night to cast what both of these cautious contenders hope will be “safe” votes favor of a financial bailout scheme based on the $700 billion plan proposed last week by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.
In doing so, they joined an overwhelming majority of their fellow senators in passing the plan by a 74-25 vote. Forty Democrats and 33 Republicans voted with Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats but backs McCain, to advance a slighting altered version of the Paulson plan.
The Senate move sends the measure back to the House with “sweeteners” added in hopes of attracting enough Democratic and Republican votes to secure its passage in a chamber that rejected the Paulson plan on Monday.
No one was shocked that Obama and McCain went along with the Bush administration’s plan to allow the federal government to begin buying up hundreds of billions of dollars worth of supposed assets from troubled financial institutions — a move designed to rescue Wall Street speculators and bad bankers from the mess they into which they steered their firms and the economy.
Obama summed up the Washington consensus when he said during the floor debate, “There’s no doubt that there may be other plans out there that, had we had two or three or six months to develop … might serve our purposes better. But we don’t have that kind of time. And we can’t afford to take a risk that the economy of the United States of America and, as a consequence, the worldwide economy could be plunged into a very, very deep hole.”
But not everyone was buying that line.
Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican who has been a key player on banking issues and who actually had the wisdom to oppose the deregulation moves of the late 1990s that helped create the current crisis, told senator Senate were in the process of having “failed the American people” by acting hastily.
“I agree we need to do something,” said Shelby. “[But] we haven’t spent any time figuring out whether we’ve picked the best choice.”
Equally blunt was Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, who rejected the bailout plan as “deeply flawed.”
“It fails to offset the cost of the plan, leaving taxpayers to bear the burden of serious lapses of judgment by private financial institutions, their regulators, and the enablers in Washington who paved the way for this catastrophe by removing the safeguards that had protected consumers and the economy since the great depression,” said Feingold. “The bailout legislation also fails to reform the flawed regulatory structure that permitted this crisis to arise in the first place. And it doesn’t do enough to address the root cause of the credit market collapse, namely the housing crisis. Taxpayers deserve a plan that puts their concerns ahead of those who got us into this mess.”