Of seven newly minted freshman Democratic senators, six voted for releasing the second half of the $700 billion TARP funds in what is being considered Obama's first major test of strength on the Hill. This would be rather uncontroversial had not five of them, to some degree or another, campaigned against the original, unpopular bailout bill to win their seats. The most flagrant offender is Jeff Merkley, who ran an ad against his opponent Gordon Smith harping on the bailout:
At the time of the first vote, Merkley commended fellow Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden for voting against the bill. Wyden, who is facing reelection in 2010, voted against releasing the second half of the bailout, too. Of the eight Democrats who Obama lost on the vote, five are up for reelection in 2010, and these kind of poll numbers were presumably more persuasive than The One himself. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Co.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) both voted against the bailout when they were in the House and running for Senate, but backed Obama's plea for $350 billion last night. Mark voted against both versions of the bill in the House, claiming that the oversight rules for the TARP money were not enough to satisfy him. As of just six days ago, even the watchdog panel appointed to oversee the TARP money agreed that the program needed more oversight before the second half was released:
She said Treasury has still not adequately explained how it is selecting banks for its $250 billion program to inject capital directly into the financial system. "The panel's initial concerns about the TARP have only grown, exacerbated by the shifting explanations of its purposes and the tools used by Treasury," the report said. It said Treasury had "not yet explained its strategy" for stabilizing the financial markets.
Tom Udall similarly slammed both versions of the bailout bill only to okay the second half this week:
In addition, the bailout bill approved by Congress is rife with problems. To begin, the bill's oversight provisions amount to little more than a congressional rubber stamp. Instead of bailing out Wall Street investors, the bill should have helped responsible homeowners by allowing them to renegotiate their mortgages in bankruptcy court. This would have addressed the root cause of the problem - risky mortgages gone bad - while helping responsible families stay in their homes.
Merkley and both Udalls are taking flak from the Left for their votes, with David Sirota claiming the votes signify that they "have absolutely no principles - that, in fact, they are the worst stereotype of politicians." Mark Begich, who defeated Sen. Ted Stevens in Alaska, was more tepid in his denouncement of the bailout, but nonetheless used it to distance himself from President Bush and the current Congress, offering the refrain that it didn't do enough for Main Street. Kay Hagan, who took down Liddy Dole in N.C., repeatedly dodged taking a position on the bailout during the campaign before finally putting out a press release after the bailout vote in the Senate indicating she would have voted "no":
"It's a fix for Wall Street, not Main Street, and this isn't a situation where we can afford to only address half the problem," she said in a statement. "I've said that any new bailout legislation must add real accountability, oversight and protections for Main Street to ensure we never find ourselves in this position again."
Dole voted against the bailout. My, how quickly things change. Their arguments for changing their votes no doubt hinge on the fact that they're now rubber-stamping spending by Obama, not George Bush. Democrats also received letter from Larry Summers promising that some of the money would go to help Americans facing foreclosure:
In contrast with the out-going President Bush, Obama is also promising to put his personal stamp on the Treasury program. Summers' letter promises that no substantial new investments will be made without Obama's approval-a very different image than the one conveyed today, with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson seeming to overshadow Bush.
If you're wondering how hard Obama had to work to flip these principled votes, don't trust the lede on the Politico story, which says Obama "threw himself into the fight." As the story later notes, "Obama worked the phones with close to a dozen calls." It's reminiscent of the first time the bailout came up for a tough vote and the Washington Post reported that Obama was really diving into the fight, but didn't place a single phone call to the Hill. His charm is just that powerful, I guess.
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