With Blocking of Auto Bailout, Democrats Helpless As Ever

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Harry Reid: not quite, but pretty much, toothless. Photo: Getty Images

If President Bush thought he could coast through the last couple of months of his presidency clearing brush from Crawford and passing thousands of midnight regulations, perhaps he misunderestimated the ineffectiveness of Congress. Though the White House and congressional Democrats reached a deal on $14 billion in assistance to the automakers, the bailout died in the Senate last night after mostly Republican, as well as some Democratic, opposition. The sticking point was UAW wages, which the union had agreed to bring down by 2011 but opponents of the bill wanted lowered by 2009. But now the ball is in Bush's court, and this morning he's signaled a willingness to use some of that bountiful TARP money to prevent the collapse of GM and Chrysler and the loss of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs. But for now, let us commence with the time-honored pointing of fingers.

• John B. Judis believes that "the failure to bailout the auto companies" is "one of those feather-brained moves" much like those that pushed us from a recession to the Great Depression. Government "should be trying to raise wages, not lower them," and now we face losses of "perhaps as many as a million jobs." Apparently "those great patriots," Senators Corker, DeMint, and Shelby, who scuttled the deal, "know better." [Plank/New Republic]

• Steve Benen calls the failure "madness," but what's most perplexing is "why the rest of the Republican caucus in the Senate went along with … three far-right lawmakers from the Deep South." [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Jay Newton-Small writes that Congress has "now effectively handed the hot-button issue to the person they all believe should have dealt with it in the first place, President George W. Bush." Though the White House has strongly opposed using some of the $700 billion in TARP funds for the automakers, "now it may have no choice." Many Republicans are against using taxpayer money for bailouts but don't want to be blamed for massive losses of industry jobs, and "believe that the outgoing leader of their party should take the political hit by authorizing the use of TARP funds himself." [Time]

• Manu Raju notes that, with the debate over the party's core value of small government as a backdrop, there are "deep rifts" among Republicans on the bailout issue, "pitting Rust Belt and auto-state senators who joined Democrats in a plea for federal aid against their Southern colleagues who represent states where foreign-owned automakers constitute a significant economic presence." [Politico]

• Chuck Todd and friends also divide the support for the bailout along geographical lines, with Southerners from both parties voting against the measure. Ultimately, "the auto bailout was one of those debates in Congress that eventually makes everyone look bad, because it appears everyone is voting on self-interest." [First Read/MSNBC]

• Josh Marshall suspects that in the future it'll be "challenging to explain why this key national decision was left in the hands of lame duck senate Republicans." [Talking Points Memo]

• Tim Fernholz believes that while President Bush "has to find some way to hold the companies over until the next administration," it's leaving Obama with "just one more expensive problem that has been pushed into his bailiwick." [Tapped/American Prospect]

• The Times editorial board admits that the bill had "big weaknesses," but flaws and all, they don't "see a long-term solution without it." After "anti-government and anti-regulatory dogma" were largely responsible for causing our recession, it's folly "to allow the ideologues to undermine efforts to pull the country out." [NYT]

• Michael Tomasky thinks "this vote shows exactly why and how the GOP is isolating itself" as "a party of the deep south and certain parts of the mountain west." Which is all "fine by me with regard to long-term politics." It's not good for the country, though. He hopes that Obama will be able to revive the bill once he takes office, but "it may be too late by then." [Guardian UK]

• Felix Salmon admits that "this is not representative democracy's finest hour," speculating that "given Washington's astonishing ability to screw up just about everything it's attempted to make things better, maybe politicians will" replace bankers as the number one villains in our economic crisis. [Market Movers/Portfolio]

• Ed Morrissey congratulates Senate Republicans, who "must have read their Robert Byrd Pocket Constitutions and realized that the federal government has no role in bailing out private enterprise with taxpayer money." [Hot Air]

• Jennifer Rubin thinks the "lesson here for Republicans is that if they stick together (even with reduced numbers in the new Congress), they might still force the Obama administration to trim its sails occasionally," which "is good news for those rooting for a measure of fiscal sanity." [Contentions/Commentary]