Call me suspicious, but I've got conspiracy theories running through my head about today's vote on the financial bailout. Here's the thing I can't figure: If you spend enough time around a legislature, as I have, you know that no competent speaker would call a floor vote on a bill unless he or she knew the votes were there. Now Nancy Pelosi is a lot of things, but she's not stupid, eliminating the only other possible explanation for today's legislative defeat.
So what gives? Why did this bill go down to defeat?
Here is my theory. Pelosi had two choices. The first was to pass the bill with largely Democratic support and a majority of Republicans opposing it. If the economy tanked anyway, she and her party would be left holding the bag. If it didn't tank, they would still be vulnerable to criticisms of some of the inevitable long-term fallout from the bill, like increased governmental intrusion in the economy, and inflation that would result from the infusion of as much as $750 billion in additional dollars chasing the same about of goods.
The second, alternative choice, would be let the bill be defeated. If, as a result, the economy crashed, she and her Democratic colleagues could blame the intransigent Republicans for killing the bill that would have saved the day.
In other words, passing the bill was really a no-win situation for the Democrats, whereas letting it die at least held out some promise of ultimately looking good.
Letting this bill die, in short, may have been the best tactical course for the Democrats. It would also make sense of why Pelosi gave a partisan floor speech which she surely knew would cost her Republican votes.
The first course of action has the added advantage that there were individual Democratic representatives whose "Yes" votes would have cost them their seats in November. These were given cover with their "No" votes. Most Democrats were for it, so the party inoculated itself against the possibility of blame in the case of an economic meltdown at the same time it saved a few vulnerable individual members.
This theory, of course, could go up in flames if a reconstituted bill gets passed later this week. We'll see.