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Fearing a political backlash against Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has told the White House that it must serve up support from Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) if it hopes to ensure bipartisan backing for a massive economic bailout package by weeks end.
Reid made his position clear to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on Monday night, as well as to his Democratic caucus, which shares many of the GOPs concerns that the $700 billion bailout has been drafted too hastily and is a risky remedy for an economy on the brink of crisis. Reid, according to Democratic Senate sources, also wants assurances from Senate Republican leaders that an evenly divided, bipartisan group of Senators will pass any legislative fix so his party isnt left with the burden of doing an unpopular White Houses bidding again.
If the administration wants us, we are going to have to go hand in hand or at the end of the day, its not going to happen, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said.
Democratic leaders have privately been eyeing a strategy to be worked out with the White House and GOP Senate leaders that would call for an equal number of Senators in each party supporting the final bailout plan. Talks have included splits of 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans or higher to ensure neither party is labeled with being responsible for the costly package.
Harry Reid would like Republican Senate support, whatever remedy we come up with, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said. Right now, theres significant opposition on the Republican side. Democrats have serious concerns about Paulsons proposal, but we are willing to work with the Treasury Department and the Fed to come up with the right solution.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) agreed, saying, we need help from both parties if a bill is to be completed in the coming days. Casey, who sits on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, said the administration needs to do more to get Republicans invested in a solution.
I think if you look at the Republican side, at the McCain campaign and the leadership, Im not convinced they are working to get their side to the table, Casey said. But the week is young.
McCain holds the key to such a bipartisan vote, according to Reid, because Republicans are likely to defer to his position on a bill that holds political peril. McCain on Tuesday night joined Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in lending qualified support for the $700 billion package, but it remains unclear whether his backing is strong enough and timely enough to persuade the Congressional rank and file.
According to a Democratic aide familiar with the discussions, Reid told Paulson this week that if McCain didnt come out for this thing and come out for it quickly, it was going to begin bleeding Republican votes. Democrats have a very real concern that opposition [from McCain] is going to drive away potential Republican votes, this aide said.