The Washington Times - September 25, 2008, 12:12PM

The posturing and politicking on Capitol Hill, in the presidential campaign and at the White House over negotiations on the Bush administration’s $700 billion economic rescue plan is fascinating to watch.

Democrats on Capitol Hill say a deal is near, and the White House agrees. John McCain, however, says there is “no consensus” on a deal, and that he’s coming back to save it.

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As today’s story by Christina Bellantoni and Stephen Dinan shows, it raises the question of whether credit for passing the plan is a hot potato or a victory wreath.

A lot depends on what the plan actually is, or at least how it’s perceived

Democrats treated it like a toxic spud on Tuesday when they called on Mr. McCain to get on board or risk being responsible for its failure. Dems were nervous because strong Republican opposition to the president’s plan means the Dems may be the ones who own it.

But then Mr. McCain said he’d come back to Washington and help craft a deal, portraying himself as a dealmaker but casting the Bush administration’s plan as something which needed to be revised and reworked. This was an attempt to treat the deal as a golden fleece while saying it’s different from President Bush’s plan.

Mr. McCain listed five changes he wanted made to the rescue plan, most of which, however, have already been agreed upon and do not change the fundamental nature of the plan, which most limited government conservative Republicans still would oppose.

Nonetheless, Democrats abruptly changed their tune, suddenly viewing the bailout plan as a golden fleece and saying they were close to reaching an agreement. The White House today said they thought they could get a deal “done quickly.”

But the White House also says it was Mr. McCain’s idea that the president host the two presidential candidates, along with congressional leaders, so that they can hammer out a deal. Mr. McCain has portrayed this meeting as part of an effort on his part to rescue a plan that is floundering.

White House press secretary Dana Perino admitted there may be “a difference of opinion” between the White House and Mr. McCain about where they are on a deal.

But Mrs. Perino denied that the White House was playing along with a McCain gambit that would allow Mr. McCain to claim credit for any deal that emerges today.

“We’re not trying to make it a political event,” she said.