washingtonpost.com
The Big Announcement That Almost Nobody Heard

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sens. Harry M. Reid and Mitch McConnell are well known as men of very few words who, given their druthers, will try to give a "yep" or "nope" answer to even the most complicated question.

On Tuesday night, the Senate's majority and minority leaders put this trait to a test that almost had ripple effects across the global marketplace. They tested the old adage of whether a tree that falls in the forest makes a sound if there is no one there to hear it.

With no fanfare, no advance warning and no heads-up to the media, Reid (D-Nev.) and McConnell (R-Ky.) strode onto the chamber floor at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday to announce what appeared to be a series of votes on otherwise important issues -- a nuclear deal with India, for example -- but gave no indication that they were about to drop a bombshell announcement.

In a back-and-forth that lasted 3 minutes 21 seconds, Reid and McConnell announced the parameters of the latest attempt to save Wall Street and Main Street: They had scheduled another bailout vote for Wednesday night. And they had added the $700 billion authority for the Treasury secretary to purchase failing assets from financial firms to an unrelated $100 billion package of tax-credit extensions, in an effort to woo wavering House Republicans.

"This is one of the finer moments in the Senate," McConnell told Reid on the Senate floor.

Really?

It was so fine that they then shut down the Senate, turned out the lights, closed the doors and hurried away from the handful of reporters left in the building, who were trying to get some explanation of what the two leaders had just done.

Most reporters, including all from the major television news outlets, had gone home hours before, when aides suggested there would be no news Tuesday evening. Only a handful -- from The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Associated Press and Congressional Quarterly -- were still on hand. All were about to leave.

To complicate matters, Reid's press office was basically shuttered and its e-mail system malfunctioned, so a brief news release issued after 8 p.m. -- without any real explanation of what the deal was or how it came together -- never made it to most reporters. Major news on the bailout almost didn't make it to the media before Asian markets opened.

It was a moment that contrasted sharply with previous major announcements about the rescue package, including the word at 12:30 a.m. Sunday from a bipartisan group of leaders and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson that a deal was at hand.

Of course, given the bill's failure Monday in the House and the plummeting stock market that followed, maybe this no-news-to-see-here approach will work out better.

Jim Manley, Reid's spokesman, took it on the chin from some angry reporters. He offered an apology to the media for Tuesday night's events but said that is sometimes the nature of the chamber. "Unfortunately, things in the Senate are a little chaotic before things get sorted out," Manley said.

'A Very Strong Position'

If the House of Representatives were a playground, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) might be most likely to be beaten up.

Sherman, who led the House revolt against the bailout bill this week, has become spectacularly unpopular with both the Republican and Democratic leadership, not to mention with K Street.

Lobbyists and House aides were gossiping this week that House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) angrily told the more diminutive Sherman in front of his colleagues at a Democratic caucus meeting last week to "shut up and sit down."

It didn't really happen that way, both men tell us. Frank's spokesman, Steven Adamske, emphatically said that Frank never told Sherman to either shut up or sit down. "Not at all," he said.

Sherman wouldn't agree with the "not at all" part.

"I do remember him having a very strong position. I don't remember him saying those exact words," Sherman said.

So what did Frank say, exactly? "My view is Paulson has not demonstrated that he has any greater integrity or concern for working families than the administration in which he serves," Sherman said yesterday. "When I said something similar to that at caucus, Barney was very, very angry."

"I see Paulson as part of the Bush administration," Sherman continued. "Barney sees him as someone he wants to give more power to than I would entrust to Mother Teresa."

Economics Lecturer Run Amok

This should do a lot to shore up voters' confidence in the government's ability to rescue the financial system: A new analysis shows that more than 8 in 10 members of Congress have no background in economics or business.

The findings were released yesterday by a group called the Center for Economic and Entrepreneurial Literacy. Managing Director James Bowers says: "It's interesting that those who are responsible for solving the biggest economic crisis in generations don't have the educational background to know the difference between commercial paper and copy-machine paper."

Ouch.

Then again, consider the source. The Center for Economic and Entrepreneurial Literacy is a project of the Employment Policies Institute, a front group created by none other than lobbyist Rick Berman.

Berman became famous in Washington fighting increases in the minimum wage for his restaurant industry clients, and battling health activists -- or "do-gooders run amok," as he once referred to them in a CBS "60 Minutes" interview.

A spokesman for Berman's Employment Policies Institute tells us Berman is not lobbying on the economic bill. He's more focused on defeating the "employee free choice act," which would make it easier for workers to form unions. But that's not stopping Berman from taking a shot at members of Congress for their shortage of economic credentials.

As Bowers says, financial literacy is inadequate across America. "But after watching the events of this week, a crash course on Capitol Hill might not be a bad place to start."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company