Debra J. Saunders

Until Wednesday afternoon, when GOP presidential nominee John McCain announced that he was heading to Washington to work with congressional leaders and the Bushies to craft a better bailout bill, both McCain and Democratic candidate Barack Obama clearly had believed that the last place they wanted to be seen was in Washington.

More specifically, the last place McCain and Obama wanted to be seen was in the Senate, where they work. You see, the Senate, according to the latest CNN/Opinion Research poll, enjoys (if that's the word) a 22 percent approval rating, 78 percent disapproval. (The numbers for President Bush, by contrast, are 31/68 approval/disapproval.)

The Senate has done much to deserve its sorry reputation. Until McCain's announcement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed inclined to support the $700 billion bailout bill -- provided Democrats could lard it with their own goodies -- but only if McCain (and other Republicans) would support the package and provide the Dems with political cover.

"I got some good news in the last hour or so ... it appears that Sen. McCain is going to come out for this," Reid announced Tuesday evening.

Then Wednesday, after it appeared doubtful President Bush would find the GOP support his plan needed, McCain announced he would come to Washington because, "I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time."

Reid's office promptly released a statement that said, "We need leadership; not a campaign photo-op." So the bailout is worth spending $700 billion of other people's money -- but not worth McCain flying to Washington to broker a doable deal? Get the feeling Reid is completely out of touch?

I am no fan of this bailout package. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson failed to inspire confidence when he opposed a limit to the pay and bonuses of the geniuses who drove their funds into the red. At $700 billion, the package is obscenely expensive. Worse, as the Washington Times reported, both the administration and Democrats had agreed to add consumer loans, possibly even credit-card debt, to the mix.

No wonder polls show that voters are to cool to the Bush bailout. If, however, McCain can broker a more fiscally responsible plan -- read one with a price tag about half of the original's size or less, and with a cap on executive pay -- he just might be able to broker a deal that can pass muster.

Debra J. Saunders

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