Outside Editorial: Rescue the rescue

Posted: Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Moving past Monday's rejection of a $700 billion rescue plan for U.S. credit markets means confronting several truths - some of them uncomfortable for Americans of various political stripes:

The Bush administration has failed to convince millions of Americans that this plan is what it is: relief not so much for Wall Street as for ordinary employers and households nationwide that rely on credit to conduct our everyday business. That's most of us. Maybe the lame-duck administration or partisan congressional leaders didn't have the credibility to sell such an expensive rescue; maybe citizens are too alienated from Washington to pay attention. But the overwhelming public opposition to a deal suggests that too many of us don't appreciate the dangers to our jobs, our credit transactions and our savings.

Yes, terrible political risks genuinely await any lawmaker who commits $700 billion to what many Americans see as a bailout for Wall Street swells. Just as terrible political risks genuinely await any lawmaker whose inaction during a crisis invites a severe economic downturn.

Our wager is that most opponents in both parties want to be able to say they weren't the ones who flooded Wall Street with taxpayer dollars. Chancy gambit: They also don't want to be blamed for a deep recession if, for lack of a bailout plan, credit markets now freeze.

So the House has a choice before it reconvenes Thursday:

Democrats and Republicans can continue to fire the blame gun at one another, as they spent way too much time doing Monday.

Or the leaders of both parties can recraft the administration's plan, perhaps to lower its price tag or otherwise shift some of the responsibility away from taxpayers who've followed every rule in the book. That would let Monday's opponents claim a justified measure of victory: "I demanded changes in this plan to protect you, and Congress agreed!" Then they could vote in good conscience to approve that revised version.

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