Coleman is saying now is time for statesmanship, not for partisan politics and finger-pointing, but Coleman's comments, as reported by the Mankato Free Press, have become a campaign issue in Minnesota's Senate race.
According to the newspaper, Coleman said at a North Mankato cafe Saturday morning, "The government could make 10 or 20 times what it pays on this, possibly."
DFLer Al Franken did the math for reporters Tuesday during a conference call and said Coleman needs to clarify his apparent contention that the bailout could be a money maker for taxpayers.
"In other words, Norm Coleman thinks we could net $7 to $14 trillion -- that's trillion with a 't'--on this bailout," Franken said. "So, today I call on Sen. Coleman too explain to taxpayers how the economics of that would work and what his time frame is."
Coleman is not disputing the accuracy of the quote. But Coleman said in his own call with reporters, he "presumes" he was referring to past government bailouts, not the current proposal to fund the Treasury Department with $700 billion to buy bad debt.
"I believe that it was a reference to a discussion about bailouts and government involvement in general, and I believe that the context was talking about Chrysler," he said.
Coleman went on to say he was also referring to last week's federal takeover of insurer AIG and the savings and loan crisis.
"Not in reference to this one, because at that time I don't think we had an understanding of exactly what's the nature of the government interest," he said. "We had a simple statement from the Secretary of the Treasury that he wanted authority to use government dollars to purchase assets."
Coleman said there's no way to estimate how much of a return taxpayers might get on the proposed Wall Street bailout. He said that's going to depend on how much the government ends up paying for assets. Coleman said he will not vote for any bill that does not protect taxpayers.
Al Franken said he would not support any bailout that didn't include close Congressional oversight, an equity stake for taxpayers, and help for homeowners, including a moratorium on foreclosures and new power for bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgage terms.
Coleman said Franken's plan to halt foreclosures and allow judges to rewrite terms would harm homeowners by driving up the cost and availability of credit.
Franken and Coleman seem to agree that golden parachutes or any financial windfalls for Wall Street executives should be explicitly excluded from any bailout.
Franken said something clearly needs to be done, but that Congress should not cave in to pressure from the White House to do a deal that doesn't make sense.
"There is an urgency here, but we have to be careful. We have to learn our lesson from the rush to war and the blank check that the president was given there," Franken said.
Treasury Department officials say without a bailout the economy will grind to a halt because consumers and businesses won't have access to credit.
Editor's Note: Following the broadcast and publication of this story, Mankato Free Press reporter Tim Krohn contacted MPR's Mark Zdechlik and said, despite Sen. Coleman's claims otherwise, he believed Coleman was indeed referring to the $700 billion bailout in relation to the quote by Coleman: "The government could make 10 or 20 times what it pays on this, possibly"