Democratic Senate Candidates Bail on Rescue Bill

Posted October 3, 2008 at 2:04pm

While Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and the Democratic leadership in the Senate voted in favor of the bailout bill, the party’s top candidates for the Senate are almost unanimously against it.

The bill passed 74-25 in the Senate Wednesday, with the support of Obama (Ill.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), vice presidential nominee Joseph Biden (Del.), Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (Conn.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and a majority of the Democratic caucus.

Obama didn’t merely vote for the bill. He pleaded with his colleagues to back it.

“There will be time to punish those who set this fire,” Obama said on the Senate floor Wednesday night, “but now is not the time to argue about how it got set. … Right now we want to put out that fire, and now’s the time for us to come together and do that.

“So to Democrats and Republicans who’ve opposed this plan, I say: Step up to the plate. Let’s do what’s right for the country at this time, because the time to act is now,” the Illinois Senator demanded.

But most Democratic candidates for the Senate think that Obama and their party’s Senate leadership are wrong, and they said so in public statements.

“There were plenty of additions that I strongly support, but this process is exactly what is wrong with Washington,” former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) said in a statement against the bill. “Instead of adding sweeteners to woo a few extra votes, Congress should have addressed the problems with the bailout and given the public an economic rescue with strong oversight, accountability and taxpayer protections.”

Shaheen’s opponent, Sen. John Sununu (R), voted in favor of the bill.

Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith (R) voted for the bill as well and was promptly criticized by his opponent, state Speaker Jeff Merkley (D).

“I commend Ron Wyden for standing up for taxpayers and doing what is necessary to restore accountability on Wall Street,” Merkley said in a statement, siding with Oregon’s other Senator, who was one of nine Democrats to vote against the bill. “The easy thing to do would have been to vote yes on this bill.

“This proposal is badly flawed and adding a number of important unrelated items, no matter how worthy, does not fix the problems with this bailout,” Merkley added. “This is what they do in Washington. They take a bad proposal and add $150 billion of sweeteners to satisfy enough people. This is not how to solve problems.”

Badly flawed? Apparently, Obama, Biden, Reid and Dodd didn’t get Merkley’s memo about solving problems or about how badly flawed the bill was.

In Minnesota, GOP Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar voted in favor of the bill, while Senate challenger Al Franken (D) is against it. But Franken said he wouldn’t blame anyone for his or her vote.

“It’s a fix for Wall Street, not Main Street, and this isn’t a situation where we can afford to only address half the problem,” state Sen. Kay Hagan (D) of North Carolina said in a statement against the bill. Hagan’s opponent, GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole, also bucked her president and party leaders by voting against the bill.

Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker (R) voted against the bill, and his opponent, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D), opposes it as well.

“Like all Mississippians I am outraged at Washington and Wall Street for letting this get out of control and that Washington has not come together to find a solution,” Musgrove said in a statement. “It is time to put partisan bickering aside and deliver an investment package that will work. Not a bailout.”

Musgrove may not realize that, in Washington, when a majority of Senators from both parties support a bill, it’s usually regarded as bipartisan.

Reps. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who are running in open-seat races for the Senate, each voted against both the initial House bill that failed and the version that passed Friday, 263-171. Tom Udall’s opponent, Rep. Steve Pearce (R) voted against the bill as well.

In Maine, Rep. Tom Allen (D) voted in favor of both House versions. His opponent, Sen. Susan Collins (R), voted for the measure in the Senate.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also voted in favor of the bailout, but it’s unclear where their opponents stand.

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) is one of the only Democratic Senate candidates to come out in favor of the bill. Warner is more of a lock for victory than any of the other Democratic candidates, and his position on the bill puts him in line with Virginia’s current Sens. John Warner (R) and Jim Webb (D)

“It’s clear that, from my perspective, this is what we need to do right now to prevent the possibility of a crisis turning into a catastrophe,” Obama said.

The widespread support for the bailout bill by both parties gives candidates an opportunity to run against Washington and show their independence. But it looks strange for Obama, the de facto leader of the Democratic Party, to implore people to support a bill and then have candidates within his own party ignore him.