How do you define bipartisanship? Well, apparently for the Democrats on Capitol Hill, it’s defined as having both House and Senate Democratic Caucuses in the room at the same time. The Democrats in Congress held “bipartisan” hearings to address the financial crisis and bailout package, but forgot to invite a few people to attend:
This should not be read any other way than just a miscommunication on schedules and times. — Chris Dodd
We can’t do it alone — We need the House Republicans to join us. — Harry Reid
Gee, Harry, if the House Republicans are so critical to the plan, why didn’t anyone think to invite them to the meeting? Taxpayers around the country have to be concerned with leadership so incompetent that they forget to invite the other party to a bipartisan meeting. If Chris Dodd and Harry Reid can’t handle the invitations, how can they handle a complex financial crisis?
Interestingly, the Washington Post reports today on why John McCain’s return to DC got House Republicans into the game at all. While Reid bleats now about how important the House Republican caucus is to success, he and Nancy Pelosi had all but cut them out of the loop before McCain’s return:
Democrats, eager to reach a deal before McCain could claim credit, hunkered down and made real progress ahead of his arrival. Conservative Republicans in the House reacted as well, according to aides who were part of the talks.
The Republican Study Committee, an enclave of House conservatives, had already begun turning against the Paulson plan. When McCain announced his return, the conservatives feared he would forge an agreement largely along Paulson’s lines, with slight alterations and the GOP leadership’s blessing. …
When Sen. John McCain made his way to the Capitol office of House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) just past noon on Thursday, he intended to “just touch gloves” with House Republican leaders, according to one congressional aide, and get ready for the afternoon bailout summit at the White House.
Instead, Rep. Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, was waiting to give him an earful. The $700 billion Wall Street rescue, as laid out by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., was never going to fly with House Republicans, Ryan said. The plan had to be fundamentally reworked, relying instead on a new program of mortgage insurance paid not by the taxpayers but by the banking industry.
McCain listened, then, with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), he burst into the Senate Republican policy luncheon. Over a Tex-Mex buffet, Sens. Robert F. Bennett (Utah) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) had been explaining the contours of a deal just reached. House Republicans were not buying it. Then McCain spoke.
“I appreciate what you’ve done here, but I’m not going to sign on to a deal just to sign the deal,” McCain told the gathering, according to Graham and confirmed by multiple Senate GOP aides. “Just like Iraq, I’m not afraid to go it alone if I need to.”
Before McCain arrived, Reid and Pelosi had tried to sideline House Republicans, cutting them out of the discussions. The reasons for that are twofold, and quite plain. House Republicans are as a group more conservative than their Senate counterparts and had major reservations about signing onto a $700 billion bailout plan, regardless of the situation at hand. The second reason is that Pelosi didn’t need them, at least not at the time; she could force a vote in the House and carry the bill easily without them, and apparently had decided to do just that if Senate Republicans went along with it.
McCain’s arrival changed the calculus. The Democrats no longer had the ear of Senate Republicans, who waited to see what their new party leader would say. When he sided with Boehner, at least in terms of bringing him to the table and getting House Republican concerns addressed for real consensus, he forced Reid, Pelosi, and Paulson to talk to Boehner.
That’s why the snub of Bohner and the House GOP came as no accident. They still don’t need Boehner to win a vote in the House. Unfortunately, since McCain shone a light on Pelosi’s power play, they now need Boehner for political cover. That means they have to work towards a true consensus, not a Pelosi-Reid-Paulson plan that they can blame solely on George Bush in the final weeks before the election.