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New Day, Real Deal?

4:50 PM, Sep 26, 2008 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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The House GOP is still pitching alternatives, the most prominent of which is Eric Cantor's, R-Va., insurance plan. After meeting today, the GOP emerged with a new negotiator who claimed support from McCain on the House Republicans' new tack:

GOP leader John A. Boehner, whose members gave him a standing ovation during the session, told the assembled lawmakers that Minority Whip Roy Blunt would be their lead negotiator before fielding concerns about the overarching Treasury plan, according to people in the room.

The most prominent idea floating around is a plan drafted by Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan that would federally insure all mortgage-backed assets at a price and premium established by the government. Cantor and Ryan both received kudos from their colleagues during the meeting.

But it remains to be seen where the caucus stands on this alternative. After the meeting, New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett, who has offered his own set of alternatives, said, "The mood in the conference is that we should move toward a more fundamental" overhaul of the administration's plan. But Virginia Rep. Tom Davis said his colleagues were "in flux" about what to do, predicting everyone will use their own judgment in voting on the eventual plan.

Rich Lowry has serious questions about the GOP alternative.

Blunt declared McCain "with us," but I just saw Cantor on CNN, and he studiously avoided saying McCain was backing their proposal. Rather, he said McCain understands the need for a deal, but is also interested in taxpayer protection measures. Sounds like Blunt may have exaggerated McCain's definite support.

Now, we will find out exactly how much Pelosi's political cover is worth to her. She could pass the bill without broad bipartisan support, but that saddles the Dems with the political fallout of passing a bailout plan opposed by up to 55 percent of Americans, according to polls.

If, indeed, McCain is behind the taxpayer-protecting principles of the GOP's alternative plan, are there not some of them he could pitch to the public tonight? If he can get enough normal Americans behind some elements of the conservative proposal (and they seem inclined that way), phones might stop ringing off the hook at the Capitol with angry constituents, and both Democrat and Republican representatives could feel better about voting for the package. This is one of those moments where McCain has the opportunity, as he has been wont to do during this campaign, to go straight to the American people with a message without much filter from the media. The campaign has used such situations to its advantage in the past. What will he do with it tonight?

How far would Pelosi be willing to go to shield her party's precious hindquarters from a public that is extremely unhappy at the moment? If nothing passes, Republicans will surely get the blame even though Nancy could have acted without them, but it seems the stakes are high enough and the field ripe for some more compromise on this measure. Even pressing them to get the ACORN-related and other such pork out of this thing would be a small victory.

Pelosi is on CNN right now signaling willingness to consider "all proposals," but not the capital-gains tax relief Republicans have suggested (which is kind of the opposite of "all," but I digress). She seemed to say that all of the other conservative proposals could be under consideration.

At the very least, it sounds like Pelosi and Co. are talking to House GOP members now, who were pointedly not involved in the mythical, magical "deal" of yesterday, which is why there was actually no deal at all.