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Strategy Memo: Bailout Blame

Good Tuesday morning. As if today could get any worse, we just deleted our original Strategy Memo and the Hubble Telescope is broken. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate meets today to consider a rail safety bill, but no votes will be taken on account of Rosh Hashanah. In fact, most of official Washington is taking it easy today. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman is in Vienna (the Austrian one, not the Orange Line one) for an International Atomic Energy Agency conference, while Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez is in the Dominican Republic at the beginning of a swing through the Caribbean. President Bush has no public events today.

-- Did we forget someone? Oh, right, the House of Representatives, which yesterday sent the economic stability package down in flames at the hands of both Democrats and Republicans. The Dow dropped a shocking 777 points, the largest one-day loss ever, and while that means bargains on stocks, it also means more shaken confidence in an already shaky system. Congress is back on Thursday, and a vote on a similar plan is expected later this week.

-- But appreciate how rare it is that a vote in Congress happens when the outcome is unknown. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was supposed to speak until the votes were lined up yesterday, and he did. Then, something happened, and someone's whip count was way off. The vote, writes the New York Times' Jackie Calmes, was a failure of leadership. Both parties are pointing fingers at each other, laying blame while simultaneously trying to put the pieces back together before irreperable harm is done.

-- House Democrats say they delivered enough votes to give Republicans an opportunity to co-own the bill, a critical element in something as unpopular and politically dangerous as a measure like a $700 billion bailout. Democrats blame Republicans for failing to whip their conference in line while simultaneously making the argument that the package was necessary thanks to President Bush's economic policies.

-- House Republicans blame Speaker Nancy Pelosi for what they say was an inflammatory floor speech ahead of the vote in which she pinned the bill's necessity on the White House. That, chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor told reporters, pushed a number of Republicans who had straddled the fence into the "nay" column. Too, Republicans complain that Pelosi couldn't bring enough of her votes to the table to get the measure through.

-- Whatever bipartisanship existed as the bill was being crafted is certainly gone now. But both parties will find it difficult to make political hay out of the vote. That's because Pelosi, Minority Leader John Boehner and the rest of leadership on both sides almost unanimously backed the bill. House campaign watchers on both sides had little to say about the political fallout, wanting to wait and see how things shake out. Our bet, as we wrote today: The measure helps challengers over incumbents far more than it benefits either party. Watch Congress' approval rating tank yet again.

-- But what about John Mccain? He stopped his campaign only to restart it in time for Friday's presidential debate because he thought he had a done deal. Yesterday, his campaign all but claimed credit for the bill's passage, when it looked like it was going through. Today, that move looks like a mistake, as the candidate's credibility has taken a hit, Politico's Mike Allen and AP's Charles Babington write.

-- Necessary Panic Of the Day: Conservatives went from salivating about the vice presidential debate, when Democratic nominee Joe Biden would put his foot in his mouth, to feeling deeply concerned, the Times' Adam Nagourney writes. That's because a series of interviews have made them nervous about their own nominee, Sarah Palin. In fact, the campaign is so nervous it has dispatched top advisers Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt to Sedona, where Palin is prepping. McCain is a gambling man, and the vice presidential selection was his biggest bet yet. A massive payoff looks like a long shot at the moment.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is in Des Moines for a roundtable on the economy, even after he said at the debate on Friday that he opposes ethanol subsidies, not a popular position in the Hawkeye State, where McCain trails in polls. Obama is in Reno, Nevada for a rally, hoping to woo enough of rapidly-growing Washoe County to offset Republican advantages in more rural parts of the state. Palin is in Sedona and Biden is in Wilmington prepping for their Thursday throwdown.