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Echoes of TARP in Fiscal Fight, but Ties Have Soured

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Tense relationships among leaders, including between McConnell, above, and Reid, as well as Boehner, have made a debt limit deal difficult.

The House and Senate leaders who are forging a deal to reopen the government and avert a historic debt default still must find a way to get the votes to pass it. They are working against a five-year history of mutual acrimony, mistrust, recrimination and, strangely enough, success.

Even as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reported making substantial progress in their efforts Monday — to the point that a scheduled bicameral meeting at the White House was postponed to give them more time to finish their work — the deal-making echoed their earlier work in 2008, when the two senior senators helped shepherd the Wall Street bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program to final passage.

The landscape, of course, has changed dramatically in the five years since the top congressional leaders worked furiously over a weekend to save the nation from the brink of an apocalypse. With the economy in the midst of a meltdown, partisan and personal ambitions were shunted to the side. The top leaders in both chambers and both parties essentially joined hands and jumped together.

When the $700 billion TARP bailout came to the House floor, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged her members to vote for it. So did then-Minority Leader John A. Boehner, then-Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor and a young Rep. Paul D. Ryan.

Boehner told his flock on the floor the vote would separate the men from the boys and the girls from the women. He called it a mud sandwich on the floor, and worse in private. But it had to be done, he said.

The bill failed on the first try, and 15 minutes later the Dow Jones industrial average was down 777 points. The vast majority of Boehner’s conference had voted no.

It’s just the kind of humiliating event political leaders try to avoid repeating.

That moment, which helped spawn the tea party, may help explain why Boehner has dug in so fiercely this time around, rather than — as Democrats assume he must in the end — put legislation on the floor that can only pass with mostly Democratic votes.

In 2008, it was left to Reid and McConnell to resuscitate TARP with a few amendments before it finally passed several days later.

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