10/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Brief Primer on How the Senate Works (and Why McCain's Campaign Suspension Is, Without a Shadow of a Doubt, a Political Stunt)

OK, a real quick refresher course, folks. Negotiations over Senate bills are handled in committees. In the case of the bailout bill, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs handles the negotiations on the Senate side. (On the House of Representatives side, this falls under the purview of the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Barney Frank.)

Other senators and other committees may have vague advisory roles, but the Banking Committee is responsible for the negotiations almost entirely. Here's the membership of that committee:

Christopher J. Dodd Chairman (D-CT)
Tim Johnson (D-SD)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)
Evan Bayh (D-IN)
Tom Carper (D-DE)
Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Robert P. Casey (D-PA)
Jon Tester (D-MT)

Richard C. Shelby Ranking Member (R-AL)
Robert F. Bennett (R-UT)
Wayne Allard (R-CO)
Michael B. Enzi (R-WY)
Chuck Hagel (R-NE)
Jim Bunning (R-KY)
Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Elizabeth Dole (R-NC)
Mel Martinez (R-FL)
Bob Corker (R-TN)

Note two names that are noticeably absent: John McCain and Barack Obama. Neither of these senators has a primary role in negotiating this bill. If McCain parachutes into Washington D.C. and comes dashing into the committee chambers on a white horse to save the day, Chris Dodd will tell him where to stick it. (In fact, the appearance of McCain and/or Obama -- along with the legion of press and aides following them around -- can't do anything but hurt the ongoing negotiations.) Should Dodd desire the GOP's input, he'll turn to ranking Republican Richard Shelby. McCain has nothing, nada, zip, zilch to do with the negotiations behind this bill -- nor should he, given that the economy is admittedly not his strong suit. (One wonders what exactly his strong suit is, but that's a topic for another post.)

So, there you have it. Anyone with any knowledge of how the Senate writes and debates bills knows that McCain's campaign suspension cannot be anything else than a cheap political ploy. Given that the campaign now wants to postpone the vice presidential debate too, I think that the main reason behind this is simply the continuation of the McCain campaign's passionate desire to keep Sarah Palin's mouth shut.

Unfortunately for McCain, his ploy is already backfiring. Obama has not agreed to postpone the debate, leaving McCain with two options: Allow Obama to take up 90 minutes of time in front of a pack of TV cameras and 100 million viewers with no one to take up the other side of the debate, or flip-flop and make an appearance in Mississippi. McCain has put himself in a lose-lose situation over a cheap political stunt. If the whole sordid episode teaches us one thing, it is this: Just like the Bush administration, McCain looks at everything through a political prism. The only difference is that McCain's not as good at political games as the Bush team. And now he'll have to pay the piper for being incompetent even in the areas in which Republicans usually shine: gutter politics and political grandstanding.