Time for a party-line vote?

The Democrats might be able to pass a bailout bill by bringing in the dissenting poles of their party. But should they?

Published September 30, 2008 3:20PM (EDT)

After the bailout bill tanked Monday, some commentators, including several on the right, wondered if the Democrats shouldn't abandon the attempt to cobble together a rickety centrist compromise, and simply use their majority power to ram through a more progressive bill. On the right, the Corner's Jim Manzi wrote, "If I were a senior Democrat right now, I'd introduce a Democratic alternative tomorrow and pass it on a party line vote." Conservative blogger Noah Millman echoed him: "Tomorrow, the Democrats [ought to] introduce their own bill, pass it on a party-line vote, and dare the Administration to veto." (For a liberal making the same suggestion, see Matthew Yglesias here.)

But, as always, the blogosphere contains voices of doubt as well. Ezra Klein writes,

The defecting Democrats look to be Blue Dogs -- which is to say, somewhat conservative, generally vulnerable, Democrats -- and members of the Black and Hispanic caucuses. A more liberal bill might get the latter two. It will lose 90 Republican votes. It won't get the Blue Dogs. And you'll lose a few dozen more Democrats who needed the bipartisan cover.

But even if such a bill could pass, it's important to remember that those voices on the right urging the Democrats forward are focused on the potential political reward, not the risk. Populist anger from both right and left seems to be running rampant against the bailout, meaning that the foot-dragging Democrats in Congress are more in tune than the party leadership with popular opinion. In the much-quoted USA Today/Gallup poll that pegged support for the bailout at only 22 percent, 81 and 80 percent called caps on CEO pay and support for homeowners "very" or "somewhat" important. That's why a moderate freshman Democrat from a red-tinted district like Kirsten Gillibrand can vote no, arguing against the bailout from the left. The issue for recalictrant Dems may not be not whether any bailout bill passes on a party-line vote or with broad support from both parties. The Blue Dogs aren't looking for bipartisan cover -- they're looking for populist cover. They want to be able to go home and say, "I voted to bail out Main Street, not Wall Street." It's perverse, but the Blue Dogs and the progressive and minority Democrats -- the right and left ends of the party -- seem to have opposed the bill on essentially the same grounds.

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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