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Corker Gives Dems Ammunition

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) gave ammunition to Democrats today who charge that the entry of John McCain into the congressional bailout negotiations knocked them off the rails. "Yesterday, except for the middle part of the day, was a tremendously productive day," he said. He singled out the hours from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. as particularly productive -- the time when bipartisan, bicameral negotiation were going on -- and before McCain entered the Washington picture.

Corker said that he was "very, very optimistic" that the talks were back on the tracks and that a deal would be reached. One obstacle, he said, is that some in Congress "don't realize the importance" of acting or what the consequences would be of inaction.

He said that the House Republican proposal to use an insurance mechanism as part of the rescue effort but that "the essence of the deal has to be getting liquidity to the market." He added that "if it's done right, we should make money off of it."

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who led negotiations last night for Senate Republicans, spoke with reporters moments after Corker. "I think the House Republicans are more understanding now of the progress that was made yesterday," he said. "I'm optimistic we're going to get somewhere."

Asked about the House GOP insurance plan, he said, "We would be happy to"--then paused, before adding, tellingly--"discuss that."

One reporter noted that the plan could actually put the taxpayer on the hook for much more than $700 billion dollars by insuring illiquid assetts difficult to price. "Isn't it just a bad idea?" he asked. Gregg smiled, but wouldn't take the bait.

He said simply that anybody watching the markets today, "especially the credit markets, had to take a deep breath."

Gregg was then asked about the discussion draft that Frank and Dodd prepared yesterday after bipartisan negotations. His answer threw a dozen reporters into confusion after he left.

"That wasn't a useful document," he said, "because it had a lot of agenda that had nothing to do with what we agreed on." Reporters clustered around, listening to a tape of his answer, confused because Corker had just expressed support for the same document as a guiding framework for ongoing negotiations. Some speculated that Gregg had misunderstood the question and thought that the reporter was referring to the list of House Republican principles recently released. Gregg had gone to the Senate floor and was unavailable for clarification, but the incident was an indication of how closely the media is following any miniscule sign of progress or cleavage.