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Strategy Memo: Couging It

Good Tuesday morning. With exactly six weeks to go before Election Day, we're starting to make vacation plans. This year, when ridiculous scenarios involving the number 269 are being thrown around willy-nilly, we're definitely buying the insurance. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate meets this morning for debate on the energy bill the House passed last week. Republicans continue to hammer Democrats for a measure they say fails to increase domestic production, though the effectiveness of the energy issue may wane as gas prices ease. The House will take up dozens of smaller measures as well as the reauthorization of the FAA and a bill guaranteeing credit card holder rights. All eyes will be on the Senate Banking Committee, which meets this morning to interrogate Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and SEC chairman Christopher Cox about trouble in the credit market.

-- The $700 billion bailout plan contunues to roll toward the floors of both houses this week even as members of Congress begin debating the measure's steep cost, the New York Times writes today. Sticking points include limiting executive pay and aiding home owners who face foreclosure, and the initial support for the massive bailout has begun to weaken.

-- Why the stall? Because Democrats simply don't trust the Bush Administration -- many compare this bailout plan to the race to war in Iraq or the PATRIOT Act, bills the administration rammed through Congress without disclosing all they knew. For evidence, look no further than the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not, technically speaking, allowed the Senate to be out of session for more than a few days, blocking President Bush from making any recess appointments this year. Some Republicans, on the other hand, think perhaps their party shouldn't be the one allowing the government to interfere in the market. The result seems to be a bill with many concessions made to Democrats that will attract the support of all but a handful of conservatives.

-- President Bush, meanwhile, is in New York for the opening ceremonies of the United Nations General Assembly today, his eighth and final visit with so many world leaders. Bush spent yesterday trying to assure those leaders the country is doing all it can to calm shaky U.S. markets, which will impact world financial institutions, the AP's Terence Hunt writes. Bush and wife Laura hosted foreign dignitaries at a reception last night where he soothed worried foreign leaders' concerns about the crisis.

-- Who's more nervous that the bailout package will take time to craft? Democrats face the prospect of going before voters with an approval rating as low as almost any ever recorded, while Republicans who stand in the way can be tagged as obstructionists in a time of crisis. Get something done and both parties can go home, perhaps to improved approval ratings. That's why there's so much chatting and compromising going on between parties with very different outlooks on the economy. It also means the most nervous people are those whose markets are open at the moment; this morning, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down almost 4%, while markets in Australia and Europe were down across the board.

-- It's clear who gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop from the economic perspective. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows most Americans blame Republicans for current financial market problems by an almost two-to-one margin of 47% to 24% who blame Democrats. Voters say they trust Barack Obama to handle an economic crisis by a six-point margin over John McCain, and trust Obama to handle the economy as a whole by a ten-point margin. As voters focus on the economy, Obama's inherent advantages seem to carry him over the top, as he now holds a 3-point lead in the latest RCP General Election Average.

-- Meanwhile, McCain is at war on a new front, and the enemy is the very media itself. A conference call yesterday sparked the latest in a series of hostile shots at media organizations, most notably the New York Times and Politico's Ben Smith (and no, the irony of adding links to those reporters writing about themselves does not escape us). It's the modus operandi of Steve Schmidt, McCain's day-to-day campaign chief, and it's worked for Republicans for years. The gamble Republicans are taking is that this year, playing the media bias card will actually work.

-- Losers Of The Day: When they submitted a bid to host a presidential debate, all they wanted was a presidential debate. So when the Commission on Presidential Debates offered Washington State University in Pullman, Washington a chance to host the vice presidential debate, the Cougars said thanks, but no thanks. Now, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will be debating at Washington University in St. Louis in what is expected to be the most-watched vice presidential debate in history. Cougar fans everywhere have their administration to thank for missing out.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain starts his day in Strongsville, Ohio, where he will talk about the economy, followed by a tour of a factory in Middleburg, Ohio. Later today, McCain will visit Dow Corning in Freeland, Michigan. Obama starts his debate prep in Florida today, while running mate Joe Biden addresses the National Jewish Democratic Council in Washington. Sarah Palin is in New York for meetings with foreign leaders as the general session of the United Nations opens. Today, Palin meets Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.