Saturday, October 4, 2008

Malfunction, dysfunction, bailout

Some days it's just no fun to write. For more than a week, I've read story after story about the dysfunctional national and local governments. Outrage is like adrenaline: it takes more and more to have any effect.

Nationally, we have the credit "crisis". That's a malfunction. But, depending on who you listen to, it's been coming for six months, a year or years. Failure to deal with it is dysfunctional and our political system is to blame. Despite their protestations, both parties have been happily hand-fed by the bad actors in this drama.

So, when Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke wanted their stinking sack filled at the last minute with $700 billion ($700,000,000,000) or so, the politicians were trapped. They knew they were to blame, and they wanted to blame someone else.

The bipartisan ball

They call it being bipartisan. An example: Ben, Henry and George (Bush, it's not really helpful to have him front-and-center these days) give you a three-page proposal and say take it or leave it. If you don't, you're being partisan, perhaps even unpatriotic.

Doesn't work? Let's have the House and Senate committees that sat on the problem for years put some flesh on the skeleton from their closets. If you don't buy that... well, see above.

Except... too many Republicans and Democrats won't go along. Now we've got a dance. The Presidential candidates can't actually come out against it (They might succeed and be blamed for bad things), only sniff that it would never have happened on their watch. The trick, on both sides of the aisle, is to have just enough support to let it pass while giving protection to vulnerable colleagues who are up for election. Nevermind toxic debt; being the only party with majority support for a Bush proposal is toxic.

The Republicans didn't have enough party discipline to play that game, so the Senate had to step in by spreading some tax breaks around. Now we can go back to business as usual.

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