Nancy Pelosi’s $700 Billion Speech

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Sept. 29 2008 5:09 PM

Nancy Pelosi’s $700 Billion Speech

House Republicans and the McCain campaign are currently blaming Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s speech today introducing the bailout package for its failure. According to this narrative, she managed to alienate a dozen Republicans who otherwise would have voted for the bill.

But read Pelosi’s speech. (Transcript here .)* She wasn’t bashing Republicans; she was bashing Bush. She said the $700 billion price tag "tells us only the costs of the Bush administration’s failed economic policies—policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything-goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system." Later, she thanked Democratic leaders Barney Frank and Rahm Emanuel while conspicuously omitting minority leader John Boehner. But she did thank Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Doesn’t he count?

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Granted, it may have sounded unpleasant to sensitive Republican ears. But GOP members can hardly object to Bush-bashing—in fact, many of them have done it themselves. Vulnerable GOP congressmen have scrambled to distance themselves from the president on Iraq, immigration, Katrina, and now economic policy. Sure, Pelosi could have been more gracious to Boehner and other Republicans who voted for the package, especially after such delicate negotiations. But her speech also showed Democrats that you can be for the bailout and still run on a Bush-bashing economic message. It’s a message you’d think would resonate with Republicans, too.

So what’s the advantage of the "hurt my feelings" excuse? Not only does it defy belief—does anyone really think 12 members of the House of Representatives actually changed their minds on this bill because of a speech?—but it allows Obama to take the high road and look presidential. His campaign decried McCain’s "angry and hyperpartisan statement"—McCain had blamed the failure on Obama and fellow Democrats—but refused to point fingers back. "Now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to join together and act in a way that prevents an economic catastrophe."

In the short term, at least, the advantage is Obama’s. First, it means the financial crisis is likely to stay in the news for a while longer—and he enjoys a huge margin over McCain when the issue is the economy. Second, McCain explicitly injected himself into the bailout negotiations, thereby lashing himself to the results. He was taking credit for this bill before it passed. Does that mean he should get blamed for its failure ?

*UPDATE: Turns out Pelosi ad-libbed quite a bit of the speech, including this potentially divisive line: "... Democrats believe in a free market ... but in this case, in itsunbridled form as encouraged, supported by the Republicans — some inthe Republican Party, not all — it has created not jobs, not capital,it has created chaos." See the video here .

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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