At a press conference held mere moments after Monday's defeat of the $250 billion bailout proposal, several top Republicans nominated a scapegoat for the bill's failure: Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Even as Chris Matthews was at pains to note on MSNBC the fact that, while the Democrats had delivered more than half of their caucus in favor of the bailout plan and Republicans could not, several top GOP figures (who fractured over the actual vote) went full-tilt in blaming Pelosi personally.
House Republican Leader John Boehner said, "I do believe that we could have gotten there today, had it not been for this partisan speech that the Speaker gave on the floor of the House. I mean, we were -- we put everything we had into getting the votes to get there today, but the Speaker had to give a partisan voice that poisoned our conference, caused a number of members who we thought we could get to go south."
Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor followed Boehner, and brandished his own copy of Pelosi's speech when seconding his leader's analysis. "Right here is the reason I believe why this vote failed," Cantor said, "and this is Speaker Pelosi's speech that frankly struck the tone of partisanship that frankly was inappropriate in this discussion."
John McCain (perhaps seeking to avoid his own share of the blame) joined in. Economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said:
"From the minute John McCain suspended his campaign and arrived in Washington to address this crisis, he was attacked by the Democratic leadership: Senators Obama and Reid, Speaker Pelosi and others. Their partisan attacks were an effort to gain political advantage during a national economic crisis. By doing so, they put at risk the homes, livelihoods and savings of millions of American families.
"Barack Obama failed to lead, phoned it in, attacked John McCain, and refused to even say if he supported the final bill.
"Just before the vote, when the outcome was still in doubt, Speaker Pelosi gave a strongly worded partisan speech and poisoned the outcome.
"This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country.
So what, exactly, in Pelosi's speech proved so searingly partisan that it sent Republicans running away from the bailout bill? You can read her entire remarks as prepared for delivery below, but there are only a couple of clauses that seem remotely partisan. At one point, Pelosi claimed, fairly, that "Democrats insisted that legislation responding to this crisis must protect the American people and Main Street from the meltdown on Wall Street."
She also included some criticism of the current White House: "It is a number that is staggering, but 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."
But the only mention of "Republican" in her prepared remarks came in this line: "Over the past several days, we have worked with our Republican colleagues to fashion an alternative to the original plan of the Bush Administration."
Responding to the Republicans' claims of inappropriate partisanship, Rep. Barney Frank delivered a memorable response, accusing GOPers of "hurting the country" because someone "hurt their feelings." Frank even offered in the press conference to salve the Republicans' wounds, getting a big laugh:
"We have come together on a bill to alleviate the crisis, and because somebody hurt their feelings, they decide to punish the country? I mean, I would not have imputed that degree of pettiness and hypersensitivity. ... There were 12 Republican members who were ready to stand up for the economic interests of America, but not if anybody insulted them. I'll make an offer. Give me those 12 people's names and I will go talk uncharacteristically nicely to them and tell them what wonderful people they are and maybe they'll now think about the country."
Here's video of the Republican leadership followed by Frank:
Here is the text of Nancy Pelosi's speech as prepared for delivery.
"Madam Speaker, when was the last time someone asked you for $700 billion?
"It is a number that is staggering, but 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.
"Democrats believe in the free market, which can and does create jobs, wealth, and capital, but left to its own devices it has created chaos.
"That chaos is the dismal picture painted by Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke a week and a half ago in the Capitol. As they pointed out, we confront a crisis of historic magnitude that has the ability to do serious injury not simply to our economy, but to the American people: not just to Wall Street, but to everyday Americans on Main Street.
"It is our responsibility today, to help avert that catastrophic outcome.
"Let us be clear: This is a crisis caused on Wall Street. But it is a crisis that reaches to Main Street in every city and town of the United States.
"It is a crisis that freezes credit, causes families to lose their homes, cripples small businesses, and makes it harder to find jobs.
"It is a crisis that never had to happen. It is now the duty of every Member of this body to recognize that the failure to act responsibly, with full protections for the American taxpayer, would compound the damage already done to the financial security of millions of American families.
"Over the past several days, we have worked with our Republican colleagues to fashion an alternative to the original plan of the Bush Administration.
"I must recognize the outstanding leadership provided by Chairman Barney Frank, whose enormous intellectual and strategic abilities have never before been so urgently needed, or so widely admired.
"I also want to recognize Rahm Emanuel, who combined his deep knowledge of financial institutions with his pragmatic policy experience, to resolve key disagreements.
"Secretary Paulson deserves credit for working day and night to help reach an agreement and for his flexibility in negotiating changes to his original proposal.
"Democrats insisted that legislation responding to this crisis must protect the American people and Main Street from the meltdown on Wall Street.
"The American people did not decide to dangerously weaken our regulatory and oversight policies. They did not make unwise and risky financial deals. They did not jeopardize the economic security of the nation. And they must not pay the cost of this emergency recovery and stabilization bill.
"So we insisted that this bill contain several key provisions:
"This legislation must contain independent and ongoing oversight to ensure that the recovery program is managed with full transparency and strict accountability.
"The legislation must do everything possible to allow as many people to stay in their homes rather than face foreclosure.
"The corporate CEOs whose companies will benefit from the public's participation in this recovery must not benefit by exorbitant salaries and golden parachute retirement bonuses.
"Our message to Wall Street is this: the party is over. The era of golden parachutes for high-flying Wall Street operators is over. No longer will the U.S. taxpayer bailout the recklessness of Wall Street.
"The taxpayers who bear the risk in this recovery must share in the upside as the economy recovers.
"And should this program not pay for itself, the financial institutions that benefited, not the taxpayers, must bear responsibility for making up the difference.
"These were the Democratic demands to safeguard the American taxpayer, to help the economy recover, and to impose tough accountability as a central component of this recovery effort.
"This legislation is not the end of congressional activity on this crisis. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will continue to hold investigative and oversight hearings to find out how the crisis developed, where mistakes were made, and how the recovery must be managed to protect the middle class and the American taxpayer.
"With passage of this legislation today, we can begin the difficult job of turning our economy around, of helping those who depend on a growing economy and stable financial institutions for a secure retirement, for the education of their children, for jobs and small business credit.
"Today we must act for those Americans, for Main Street, and we must act now, with the bipartisan spirit of cooperation which allowed us to fashion this legislation.
"This not enough. We are also working to restore our nation's economic strength by passing a new economic recovery stimulus package--a robust, job creating bill--that will help Americans struggling with high prices, get our economy back on track, and renew the American Dream.
"Today, we will act to avert this crisis, but informed by our experience of the past eight years with the failed economic leadership that has left us left capable of meeting the challenges of the future.
"We choose a different path. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, we will break free with a failed past and take America in a New Direction to a better future."
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