COMMENTS: Agreement Turns to Acrimony

Negotiations over the Treasury Department's $700bn bailout of the financial industry was Story of the Day yet again on Thursday. At lunchtime on Capitol Hill, legislators announced "fundamental agreement on a set of principles." Then Congressional leaders joined Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain for a photo-op at the White House with President George Bush and announced…no agreement. It was an interview-heavy news hour as both candidates taped remote q-&-a's with all three anchors to rehearse their talking points--this even though, technically speaking, this was the second day of McCain's suspended candidacy. ABC led from the White House; CBS and NBC from Capitol Hill. NBC anchor Brian Williams was in Washington too.

From the White House ABC's Jake Tapper reported that "any hopes for a bipartisan agreement" were "in shatters" even as NBC's Tom Costello on the Hill found "optimism that a deal is close." CBS' Bob Orr (no link) observed that the "real heavy lifting is being done at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue" from the White House. "The final bill is being largely crafted by Democrats with only modest Republican input."

That "modest" input was in fact non-existent for many in the House Republican caucus. They "do not like this at all," NBC's Costello understated. "Many conservatives remain ideologically opposed to a government bailout." CBS' Orr heard as they "grumbled that they have not agreed to anything yet." ABC's George Stephanopoulos called it "chaos, pandemonium, theater" when those GOPers stopped suggesting amendments to the original framework proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson but "an alternate plan…a completely different approach." So now, announced ABC's Tapper, "the blame game begins." Democrats blaming Republicans for "not doing enough to help pass the President's bill;" Republicans blaming Democrats for "forcing their principles upon them."

Where was suspended candidate McCain in all this? The senator who had stopped running for President in order to put Country First, as his slogan says, and to try to broker a compromise? NBC's Costello repeated the line from Capitol Hill that negotiators "had already resolved key issues without McCain or Obama." Their involvement was a "high-powered photo-op," opined CBS' Orr. Sen Christopher Dodd, a leading Democratic negotiator told Orr that "the White House summit was more of a political stunt for McCain." ABC's Stephanopoulos talked to other Democrats who harbored darker suspicions: "He is coming in, working with the House Republicans, to blow this up--so he can put it back together and get some credit."


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