The House debate on the bailout bill, just concluding now before the final vote, was the most striking House debate I've ever seen. Because both sides are hemorrhaging votes, it didn't have the usual strictly partisan back-and-forth quality usually found in the House. Republicans lauded Barney Frank for his "noble" work; Steny Hoyer quoted Spiro Agnew to speak in support of the bill. It was -- wonder of wonders -- practically a real debate, rare as a blue moon in the people's chamber. With a tough election consuming everybody's thoughts, the argument centered as much around the job definition for a congressman as on the actual details of the bailout plan. The bill sucks, everybody acknowledged, but is it better in principle to act or not to act? Do voters send congressmen to the House to enact things, or to stand athwart very imperfect progress? Will the 110th Congress shortly be punished for its partisan bickering and incapacity to pass big reforms?
"This bill is the wrong medicine," insisted moderate Democrat Marcy Kaptur. "I say we go back to the drawing board."
"This will be the most difficult decision I make in my sixteen years in this body," countered a mournful Spencer Bachus, the top Republican on the Finance Committee. "None of us in this body have any good judgment or insight into what it means if we don't pass the bill."
"Meeting a national crisis does not give anybody the luxury to do everything they want," pleaded Barney Frank.
The weirdest case in favor the bill came from Minority Leader John Boehner, who yesterday called the bill a "crap sandwich." "Nobody wants to vote for this," he yelled. "Nobody wants to be anywhere near it. ... You all know how awful it is. I didn't come here to vote for bills like this!" But, he went on, "I believe the risk in not acting is much higher. ... These are the votes that separate the men from the boys and the girls from the women. What's in the best interest of our country? Vote yes," he concluded and dashed away from the podium in tears.
Update: Chaos on the House floor. Opponents of the bill are screaming for the vote to be closed. Wow -- the bailout bill looks to be on the verge of failing, with more Democratic "nos" than I'd have expected. Supporters of the bill need eleven votes changed to rescue it right now.