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Bailing Out of the Bailout

The Washington Sketch weighs in on the Wall Street bailout debate.Video by Akira Hakuta/washingtonpost.comAdditional footage courtesy of AP

"Senator Harry Reid said you were going to vote for the Paulson plan," a reporter from Bloomberg News mentioned to McCain.

"I did not say that," the candidate answered.

"Do you have a comment about that?" the reporter inquired.

"I did not say that," McCain repeated.

Obama was no more helpful to the debate. "Everyone -- Republicans and Democrats, the White House and Congress -- must work together to come up with a solution that protects American taxpayers and our economy without rewarding those whose greed helped bring us to this point," he proposed from the safe distance of Dunedin, Fla.

Specifics? Obama didn't offer any. Instead, he proposed a few unobjectionable bromides. "Make sure that your tax dollars are protected," he said. And: "Provide oversight and accountability." And: "I will not allow this plan to become a welfare program for Wall Street executives."

Without guidance from the top, Democratic lawmakers were adrift, lining up at the House Financial Services Committee yesterday afternoon to air grievances about the package. "It doesn't look right!" said Al Green (Tex.).

"If you feed pigs, they'll become hogs," testified Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.).

"Pigs get fed and hogs get slaughtered," amended Lincoln Davis (Tenn.).

Then, just as Paulson and Bernanke began their testimony pleading for urgency and offering key concessions, McCain torpedoed the whole thing. "It has become clear that no consensus has developed to support the administration's proposal," he said in New York. "I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time." McCain announced that he was suspending his campaign to return to Washington, and he called for tomorrow's presidential debate to be postponed.

But McCain's proposal to return to Washington was met with immediate ridicule in the capital, privately from Republicans ("Daddy's coming home!" joked one) and publicly from Democrats. "It's the longest 'Hail Mary' in the history of either football or Marys," Frank said, vowing to continue negotiations with the administration. As for the Republican ticket, Frank told The Post's Paul Kane: "I guess if I wanted expertise there, I'd ask Sarah Palin."

Obama engaged his opponent in a public dispute about which candidate called the other one first to discuss the bailout. Reid, the Senate majority leader, complained that "it would not be helpful" to have either of them return to town, adding, "We need leadership, not a campaign photo op."

McCain's bombshell ended any remaining hope of a quick deal on Bush's bailout plan. But what else was there to do? Paulson continued to testify. Bush went ahead with his speech. And, in the halls of democracy, anarchy reigned.

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