Everything America hates about Congress was on display these past few weeks as members struggled to pass the $700billion bailout.
Yet experts argue that in the end the system worked, as members acted rapidly to try to ease what may be the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression,
“Democracy is messy,” said Carl Pinkele, a professor of politics at Ohio Wesleyan University.
But has it become too messy? How did a three-page Bush administration request balloon into a 450-page goodie bag brimming with tax breaks for NASCAR tracks and children's wooden arrow makers, among others?
Veteran consensus-builders like the two banking committee chairmen, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and friendly Republicans, including Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, were able to work smoothly behind closed doors.
But once their plans were offered to the rank and file Sunday, the partisan wrath surfaced. Many Republicans have long disliked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying she often shuts them out of decision-making, and some Democrats tend to view Republicans as ideologues unwilling to compromise.
Pelosi knew weeks ago that she needed 100 GOP votes for the bailout to pass. Too many urban and progressive Democrats could not back the bill; many were concerned Wall Street fat cats were being saved while their constituents were losing their homes.
But when she emerged Monday, just before the House vote, and blasted the “right-wing ideology of anything goes,” many GOP lawmakers were reminded of the speaker they despised.
Pelosi's speech “was hardly statesmanlike,” said James Hoefler, a political scientist at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. The House rejection of the plan left both sides accusing the other of playing politics.
Republicans blamed Pelosi for the defeat; as House GOP leader John Boehner charged her words “caused a number of members we thought we could get to go south.”
Adding to the ugliness was a Republican schism. Most of the free-marketers, as well as fiscal conservatives appalled at the potential deficit growth, generally would not be consoled, even at the end.
But with the sweeteners, notably tax breaks likely to add $110 billion to the a deficit almost certain to set a new record next year, members can go home and show they did something for taxpayers.
So enacting a historic bailout bill in a matter of weeks is almost a demonstration that an unruly system can be tamed. The drama probably won't boost Congress' approval numbers, but that's democracy, Capitol Hill-style.
“The system is designed so you do what you can to get to the middle,” said Pinkele.