The presidential candidates are hardly powerless bystanders in the financial crisis — as senators and as leaders of their respective parties, either could have suspended his campaign and headed to Washington to lead his party’s legislative response to the proposal.
Far from that, neither McCain nor Obama has yet to venture so much as a detailed comment on the substance of today’s proposed $700 billion bailout. Instead the candidates are sticking to party-appropriate bromides while waiting to discern the public’s reaction, and also what move their parties’ respective congressional leaders are planning to make.
Saturday was tiptoe time.
McCain, who has said he’ll back some kind of rescue package, issued a statement soon after Paulson’s plan popped that mostly just referenced the if-I-were-president bailout plan he proposed on Friday.
“I've spoken with Secretary Paulson and look forward to reviewing the full administration proposal, as well as any modifications that might emerge in congressional negotiations,” McCain said in a statement posted on his campaign website.
Obama issued a general statement of support but also expressed sympathy — in the vaguest possible terms — to House Democrats who want to tie the rescue plan to relief to mortgage relief with working- and middle-class mortgage relief and executive pay caps.
“I fully support the efforts of Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke to find that solution. Those basic principles are clear,” he said during the Democrats’ weekly radio address.
“First, it must be a plan not just for Wall Street, but for Main Street. We need to help people cope with rising gas and food prices … and we must also ensure that the solution we design doesn't reward particular companies, or irresponsible borrowers or lenders, or CEOs, some of whom helped cause this mess.”
Top congressional leaders weren’t exactly bounding to the microphones either.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Callif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) initially offered no comment, content to leave the talking to relevant committee chairmen, including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (R-Mont.).
Pelosi issued a statement late this afternoon saying “we will also seek to protect lower- and middle-income Americans … by enacting an economic recovery package that creates jobs and returns growth to our economy” but offering no particulars.
Reid followed suit this evening, saying he would work with the Treasury Department but asking that Republicans “work with us to address the crisis facing the middle class. Democrats believe we must provide real relief to working families before we adjourn.”
Obama, campaigning in Florida, was willing to address the wider issue of deregulation, but only in the context of hammering McCain for a newly published essay, written before the market collapse, in which the Arizona senator suggests that banking deregulation has been such a good thing that the health insurance market ought to be similarly deregulated.
“Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done in the last decade in banking competition, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation," McCain wrote in the September/October issue of Contingencies, an actuarial journal.
"John McCain said he wants to do for health care what Washington did for bankers," Obama said. "This election is a chance to stand up and say nough is enough."
Doug Holtz-Eakin, McCain’s economic adviser, shot back, saying, “This is absurd. If Barack Obama thinks that today’s financial troubles were caused by policies which allowed Americans to use an ATM anywhere in this country, then it is better that he continue to be silent about solutions to the crisis on Wall Street. … It's also possible Sen. Obama is simply a dishonest politician who will say anything to get himself elected and just isn’t ready to be president.”