WASHINGTON – The Republican presidential candidate who took the economic bailout so seriously that he suspended many campaign activities last week stayed quiet in the Senate when it came time to vote on it.
Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, his Democratic rival, both left the campaign trail Wednesday and returned to Washington to vote on the historic $700 billion bailout. Both voted for the bill.
Obama used the opportunity before his colleagues and TV cameras to lay out his rationale and explain his economic vision.
"This will not solve all our problems," Obama said on the Senate floor, as his Democratic colleagues streamed in to listen. "This is what we need to do right now, to prevent the possibility of a crisis turning into a catastrophe."
McCain did not speak about the measure from the chamber. Before the roll was called, the Arizona senator dined in Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell's office with other GOP senators.
"He was working hard with his colleagues to ensure that this package moved forward," said Mark Buse, McCain's Senate chief of staff. "He didn't see the need to speak on the bill."
Both senators voted for the bill, which passed 74-25. It now goes to the House, which is expected to vote on Friday.
McCain discussed the measure earlier in the day in Missouri, but his decision not to speak about it in the Senate stood out because he had cited the seriousness of the issue when he took the dramatic step a week earlier of suspending his campaign and suggesting what became a bipartisan White House meeting on the crisis.
McCain is action-oriented by nature and usually is a ready Republican participant in trying to work out compromises on major pieces of stalled legislation. But he has struggled to strike the right balance between being involved in the crisis without appearing to exploit the situation for political purposes. Democrats accused him of politicizing the crisis when he rushed back to Washington last week to help.
The Republican let his words speak for him earlier Wednesday at the Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Mo. "If we fail to act, the gears of our economy will grind to a halt," he said in a speech.
It's been rough going for the bailout package and it was hoped that the rare appearances by Sens. Obama and McCain would help propel it to passage. The candidates in turn were seeking political advantage by addressing the top issue on voters' minds.
In reality, the candidates have had little to do with drafting the bill's various versions. And their influence over their Senate counterparts was unclear.
The House on Monday rejected an earlier version, a move that sent the stock market into a 778-point dive.
Wednesday it was the Senate's turn. In rare agreement, leaders of both parties presented a rewrite with a variety of sweeteners for lawmakers reluctant to vote 'yes' a little more than a month before Election Day.
Obama urged any lawmakers on the fence to "step up to the plate."
"Let's do what's right for the country at this time, because the time to act is now," he said on the Senate floor.
Lawmakers of both parties said Wednesday the changes made the bill more palatable. McCain, in Missouri, said he was pleased that the bill includes taxpayer protections, limitations on executive compensation and sufficient protections for people's bank accounts.
They include an increase in Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. protection for bank accounts from $100,000 to $250,000. Both McCain and Obama had endorsed the hike in deposit insurance.