A House Divided Along Twisted Lines

Blunt speaking was the order of the day. In this case it was Rep. Roy Blunt.
Blunt speaking was the order of the day. In this case it was Rep. Roy Blunt. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
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By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The bailout bill was going down to defeat on the House floor yesterday, and Democratic and Republican leaders were desperately trying to twist arms and change votes when a bipartisan group of backbenchers began to heckle them.

"Regular order!" they cried, demanding that the leaders end the vote and pronounce the bill dead.

In the well of the chamber, Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the normally genial House majority leader, turned with fury on one of his tormentors, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), and shouted: "The market's tanking as we speak!"

So it was. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 778 points, the largest one-day point drop in history. And no wonder: In the Congress of the United States, the insane are now running the asylum.

After the shocking vote of 228 to 205, party leaders did their usual rounds of partisan finger-pointing, but it really wasn't a partisan issue at all. The center had collapsed in favor of a coalition of far-right and far-left zealots. What was once the lunatic fringe was now a majority: 40 percent of House Democrats, going by yesterday's vote, and fully two-thirds of Republicans.

"I don't know that we know the path forward at this point," a broken House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in defeat.

How could he? The new majority isn't worried about ephemeral things such as 700-point drops in the Dow. "No, I'm not," Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) declared after the vote. "The market may be down, but the Constitution is up!"

Indeed, if economic calamity results, there will be many proud authors. Begin with Gohmert, who disrupted proceedings before the first arguments yesterday. "I would move to adjourn so we don't do this terrible thing to our nation," he said. His motion went down, 394 to 8.

Another proud architect of the defeat: Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), who had an earthy perspective on the bill. "Madam Speaker, this is a huge cow patty with a piece of marshmallow stuck in the middle of it," he declared. "I'm not going to eat that cow patty."

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), another opponent, found a precedent in Russian lit. "The choice is stark, and it was put forth in the book by Dostoyevsky, in 'The Brothers Karamazov,' " he said.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) thought the problem was on the surface. "Not even Avon or Mary Kay can compete with the cosmetics in this bill," he asserted. And Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) was a one-man train wreck of colliding metaphors as he invoked animal imagery ("the horns of a dilemma . . . two sharp, shiny points we could impale ourselves on"), meteorological imagery ("the sky was going to fall") and weapons imagery ("it's nice to take a bullet for the team").

Supporters of the legislation, by contrast, had trouble mustering the same passion, although Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) did find a precedent for the bailout in his long-ago job as a lifeguard. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) became entangled in logic as he argued: "This bill offends my principles, but I'm going to vote for this bill to preserve my principles."

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