How Will Politics Play In Bailout Passage?

News of the Bush administration plan to rescue Wall Street is dominating the political headlines. Senators Barack Obama and John McCain will be among the lawmakers voting on the $700 billion package. Later this week, the two will meet face-to-face in the first debate of the presidential campaign.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

You can't spend this much money without politics getting involved, and to get a read on that we're joined by NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts, who's with us most Monday mornings. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Last week when congressional leaders said they generally supported the idea of this plan, they didn't know specifically what it would be. What do they think now that they know more details?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, it's remarkable how little detail is in the legislation itself. It's basically three pages. And as one leader said to me yesterday, they've said, you know, give us the money and go away. And Congress is not quite ready to do that. I think that they are - they were quite chastened by the conversation last week with the head of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury secretary. But they still feel that this is their moment of leverage.

So I think that you're likely to see a little more oversight of the Treasury in the final legislation. And there really is a desire on the part of the Democrats to do something about corporate salaries in any entity that the taxpayer is helping out for the moment. So I think you're going to see some change, but by and large you're going to see this thing go through, because the Congress, as much as they might not like it, feel that they really don't have much choice.

INSKEEP: I guess we should redefine a term here. When you said moment of leverage, when Wall Street talks about leverage, they're talking about borrowing money. When Washington talks about leverage, they're saying they want to attach things onto a bill that has to pass.

ROBERTS: That's true.

INSKEEP: Now, what about the fact that a couple of the people who will be voting on this package in Congress happen to be presidential candidates?

ROBERTS: Well - and they have of course reacted in various ways throughout the past week. And last night each of them was on the CBS program "60 Minutes," and John McCain, who has really seemed to have some trouble finding his voice on the economy, getting very angry. His big problem, of course, there, Steve, is that he's a Republican. And Republicans, when the economy is the issue, tend to not do very well, and particularly when it's something like the stock market. It's just these reminders of Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression, which has hung over the Republican Party these many years.

And McCain was having trouble enough on the subject of not being the third Bush term without this. So, he has been kind of searching around for what to say less. Last night he said, well, he might make Andrew Cuomo, of a great Democratic family, his financial czar. So that's been an interesting evolution. And Barack Obama has been somewhat more measured, surrounding himself with the Clinton administration economic team. And that has looked somewhat more reassuring.

INSKEEP: Well, Cokie, what will you be looking for when these two presidential candidates face off in their first debate at the end of this week?

ROBERTS: Well, it's going to be fascinating, Steve. People have been so interested in this campaign, and in the conventions, and everything about it. So I suspect that there will be many, many millions watching and listening to this debate. And you know, Barack Obama was not terrific in the debates during the Democratic primary season, and he got a lot better as the debates went on. And John McCain has been various in his debates.

So I think people are going to be just watching very, very closely to see how they still feel about these candidates. They haven't really sorted that out yet. It's supposed to be a foreign policy debate, but I suspect that it will start with economic policy, which of course is global these days. And we will be seeing exactly what these candidates say about the U.S. economy.

INSKEEP: And the many people who will be watching include NPR's Cokie Roberts who joins us every Monday morning. Thanks, Cokie.

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