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THE BAILOUT DEAL….Here’s the White House’s response to the failure of the auto bailout bill last night:

“Under normal economic conditions we would prefer that markets determine the ultimate fate of private firms,” Dana Perino, Mr. Bush’s spokeswoman, said in a carefully nuanced statement released minutes before the financial markets opened in New York. “However, given the current weakened state of the U.S. economy, we will consider other options if necessary — including use of the TARP program — to prevent a collapse of troubled automakers.”

The Treasury Department promptly indicated that it would provide short-term relief to the automakers. “Because Congress failed to act, we will stand ready to prevent an imminent failure until Congress reconvenes and acts to address the long-term viability of the industry,” a Treasury spokeswoman, Brookly McLaughlin, said.

This whole thing just gets stranger and stranger. Bush sent a handpicked squad of West Wing bigfeet to Capitol Hill a couple of days ago to press Republicans to pass the bill, and they failed miserably. In one sense, of course, this is just more of the same: Bush is a lame duck, even his own party sneers at him these days, and this is yet another demonstration that they couldn’t care less about what he does or doesn’t want.

Fine. But did he tell the reluctant Republicans that the Senate bill was their best chance for genuine industry restructuring? That if they didn’t pass it, he’d be forced to use TARP funds and both the UAW and the car companies would probably end up getting a better deal? And then they’d get a way better deal next month after Democrats took over?

If he didn’t tell them that, why not? And if he did, did the Senate Republicans really decide they didn’t care that they were giving up what little leverage they had? That they just wanted to make their point, and reality be damned? Are they really that nuts?

I guess so. I wonder if their constituents will ever figure this out?

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