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A Terrible Vote

Just five days ago I wrote these words explaining why I was still “bullish on America”:

Although the current crisis exposes vulnerabilities in the American
financial system, it also shows one of our greatest strengths: the ability
of our politicos to cross party lines and formulate a decisive response in
a time of crisis. We saw that kind of bipartisan action after 9/11, and
there is a good chance that we will see it now — assuming that lawmakers
can agree on a bailout package that makes sense.

The august members of the House of Representatives seem determined to prove me wrong. Rather than fall in behind the bipartisan compromise laboriously negotiated over the past week they have chosen to vote it down. I am not an economist or financier, so I have no opinion on the line-by-line merits of the legislation that was just rejected. But it doesn’t take a Nobel Prize winner to see that the financial markets are melting down and that the compromise package was the the best short-term answer available. By voting it down, lawmakers were guilty of contemptible short-sightedness — putting their fear of being criticized for providing a “bailout for the wealthy” ahead of the urgent needs of the country. They have already tanked the stock market for today. Worse may be ahead-and if a serious recession does come it will cost far more than $700 billion and the victims will be the vaunted “middle class” that everyone in Washington professes to care about.

Although plenty of Democrats voted against the package, the impetus for the opposition came, I am sorry to say, from conservative Republicans. (Two-thirds of House Republicans voted “nay”, compared to fewer than 50% of Democrats.) Hearing the explanation of some Republicans — that they were offended by Nancy Pelosi’s speech in which she blamed Bush for our current woes — makes the outcome even more risible and baffling. Petulence at Democratic partisanship is no reason to send the economy down the tubes. At a moment like this, I am ashamed to call myself a conservative.

I only hope this vote was a passing political gesture that soon will be put right. Otherwise the underpinning of our national strength-our economy-has been put in serious jeopardy.



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