The bailout thing better work

If there were any doubts the House would pass the revised $700 billion bailout package, they were quickly resolved when the unemployment figures for September came out in advance of the vote.

The rate was unchanged at 6.1 percent but that masked the real damage to the economy — a loss of 159,000 jobs last month, the most in five years and far more than analysts expected. It was the ninth straight month that the economy shed jobs, bringing the total for the year to 760,000, a number the Associated Press called "staggering."

The White House is usually quick to try to put a positive spin on economic news but this time it limited itself to a fact sheet listing the reasons the House should pass the bailout package, which the House quickly did even though it was in large measure basically the one the lawmakers had rejected Monday.

The bailout was poorly explained to the public and easily demagogued as a taxpayer-financed rescue of Wall Street fat cats done in by their own greed. The lawmakers, especially the 133 Republicans who provided the margin of defeat, were quickly chastened by a record plunge in the stock market and the evaporation of over a trillion in paper wealth.

And their constituents also came to see the connection between the bailout and their own ability to get loans for homes, college tuition, cars, small businesses and consumer purchases. The bailout that had gone down, 208 to 225, passed easily, 263 to 171.

President Bush made a brief appearance to say he would sign quickly the bill. But it is already late in the game. If the country is not already in a recession, it certainly seems headed there. Some economists see unemployment at 7 percent or above deep into next year, and if the bailout doesn’t work the government has little left in its arsenal.

These are the last unemployment figures before the November elections, and they underscore the fact that the presidential campaign is now down to almost a single issue — the economy.