The Democrats need to get their story straight. On one hand, it is beyond dispute at this point that Congressional Republicans were never on board. It is equally clear that the Democratic majority won’t act without the “cover” of a substantial number of Republican votes–that is they demand that this deal not be done, in Chris Dodd’s words, “on a three-legged stool.”
So several things follow. First, this is precisely why Hank Paulson and Harry Reid summoned John McCain–to get Republican cover for the Democrats who despite the looming crisis can’t bring themselves to govern (that is, to vote on and pass a bill which they believe is essential). Second, that is why McCain presented but did not endorse the GOP’s wish list of conservative suggestions in the White House meeting. That is how one cajoles and drags along a recalcitrant party–by allowing them to have their say. (From reports it appears that the hyper-empathetic Barack Obama attempted to corner the Republicans, not a comforting sign that he knows how to negotiate with people who are in fundamental disagreement with him.) Third, while it would be nice for the Democrats to drag more Republican votes along, it is highly unlikely that they need as a mathematical matter all 100 Republican votes they have asked for. Whether they get 50 or 100, Democrats almost certainly could pass the Paulson bill in a form acceptable both to the White House and the Senate. But they don’t want to–Chris Dodd told us that.
And finally, if there is no deal, if the stock market drops hundreds more points, if there is no abatement in the short term credit crunch, and if more banks and other institutions fold today, we’ll see if running off to a debate and lifting whatever pressure exists to make a quick deal seems like such a good idea. Having spent over twenty years as a labor negotiator I can tell you: unless you provide contentious parties with a deadline, no matter how artificial, they will never reach a deal.