Bailout's Failure Shows Bush's Lame-Duck Status

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The failure of the Bush-backed bailout package is a sign of the lame duck president's withering authority.

DANIEL SCHORR: There was something almost touching about what happened to President Bush on Monday.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: At 7:34 a.m., he stepped into the White House driveway and told the assembled press that members of both parties would support the bailout bill and send a strong signal to markets at home and abroad. Some six hours later, the House rejected the bill with two-thirds of the Republican members voting to oppose it. It was a stunning surprise, although perhaps it shouldn't have been. A week ago, former speaker Newt Gingrich had publicly urged members to vote against the bailout, calling it a dead loser that might cost Republicans the November election.

Mr. Bush had served as cheerleader-in-chief for government bailouts. On September 18th, he announced he was canceling out-of-town travel for that day to closely monitor the situation of the failing banks. On September 24th, he warned that without immediate congressional action, America could slip into a financial panic. And then finally, on Monday, his appeal to pass the $700 billion bailout.

Seldom have we witnessed such dramatic evidence of the withering of presidential authority. After sweeping Democratic losses in the congressional election of 1994, President Clinton felt obliged to say, the president is relevant. President Bush, in his final weeks in office, appears to become all but irrelevant where Congress is concerned.

He had not chosen to undertake any dramatic display of leadership, like going up to Capitol Hill to assert pressure on lagging legislatures. Behind the scenes, he did lobby his own Texas Republican delegation by phone, and they voted 15 to four against him. The nitty-gritty of hammering out a compromise measure with Congress has been mainly left to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. The president is more in a support role than a leadership role. Mr. Bush is a very lame duck. This is Daniel Schorr.

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