COMMENTS: Finance Upstages Ole Miss Debate

The beginning of the General Election debate season lured two of the three anchors to the University of Mississippi in Oxford where PBS' Jim Lehrer will moderate Friday's night's gabfest, which was supposed to focus on foreign policy topics. The financial crisis has scrambled that agenda. CBS' Katie Couric and NBC's Brian Williams were both on hand--and NBC actually chose the debate as its lead. ABC anchor Charles Gibson stayed in New York with George Stephanopoulos to watch the debate on television like the rest of us. ABC's lead, along with CBS', was the Story of the Day, the continuing negotiations on Capitol Hill over the Treasury Department's proposed $700bn rescue package for the debt-ridden financial sector. Thus each of the three newscasts have led with high finance on nine out of the last ten weekdays--leading with Campaign '08 each only once.

House Republicans were the key movers in the day's financial bailout developments. They disagreed with the plan from the Republican White House on a federal buyout fund and offered their alternative: it would "create a mortgage insurance program paid for by the financial firms that hold the loans," was how NBC's Tom Costello described it. How would they get the money to set up the program? "Cut capital gains taxes…and cut corporate taxes." Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson responded to his fellow Republicans, Costello noted, with the verdict: "The conservative plan will not work."

"Disarray," was ABC's Jake Tapper verdict on the state of the talks, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her insistence that the bill be passed with bipartisan support in the House. If Republicans would not support it, neither would Democrats. "Without a significant number of conservative votes any deal is doomed," CBS' Bob Orr calculated. ABC's George Stephanopoulos did a head count and reckoned that Pelosi would need "between 70 and 100" House GOPers. He predicted a compromise that the Treasury Secretary would be empowered to use the insurance program idea "at his discretion" but would not be obliged to.

Why does Pelosi need a bipartisan vote? ABC's Betsy Stark explained that "Americans are angry" because "the popular perception is that the government will be writing a $700bn check, a bailout from Main Street to Wall Street…that is $700bn they will not be able to spend on healthcare, Social Security reform, education, the environment, you name it." Stark suggested that "bailout" was the wrong way to look at the purchase of all those debt-ridden securities. "It is an investment," she smiled.


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