Bailout Plan

29 09 2008

In a moment of historic import in the Capitol and on Wall Street, the House of Representatives voted on Monday to reject a $700 billion rescue of the financial industry. The vote came in stunning defiance of President Bush and Congressional leaders of both parties, who said the bailout was needed to prevent a widespread financial collapse.

The Full Official Bailout Plan PDF

Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, said of the new plan, “If we don’t pass it, we shouldn’t be a Congress.”

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The vote against the measure was 228 to 205, with 133 Republicans joining 95 Democrats in opposition. The bill was backed by 140 Democrats and 65 Republicans.

Supporters vowed to try to bring the rescue package up for consideration again as soon as possible, perhaps late Wednesday or Thursday, but there were no definite plans to do so.

Stock markets plunged as it appeared that the measure would go down to defeat, and kept slumping into the afternoon when that appearance became a reality. By late afternoon the Dow industrials had fallen more than 5 percent, and other indexes even more sharply. Oil prices fell steeply on fears of a global recession; investors bid up prices of Treasury securities and gold in a flight to safety. House leaders pushing for the package kept the voting period open for some 40 minutes past the allotted time, trying to convert “no” votes by pointing to damage being done to the markets, but to no avail.

The vote was a catastrophic political defeat for President Bush, who was described as “very disappointed” by a spokesman, Tony Fratto. Mr. Bush had put the full weight of the White House behind the measure and had lobbied wavering Republicans in intensely personal telephone calls on Monday morning before the vote. Both presidential candidates also supported the plan.

Supporters of the bill had argued that it was necessary to avoid a collapse of the economic system, a calamity that would drag down not just Wall Street investment houses but possibly the savings and portfolios of millions of Americans. Moreover, supporters argued, a lingering crisis in America could choke off business and consumer loans to a degree that could prompt bank failures in Europe and slow down the global economy.

Opponents said the bill was cobbled together in too much haste and might amount to throwing good money from taxpayers after bad investments from Wall Street gamblers.

Immediately after the vote, many House members appeared stunned. Some Republicans blamed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, for a speech before the vote that disdained President Bush’s economic policies, and did so, in the opinion of the speaker’s critics, in too partisan a way.

“Clearly, there was something lacking in the leadership here,” said Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia.

Democrats, meanwhile, blamed the Republicans for not coming up with enough support for the measure on their side of the aisle.

Members of both parties, doing a quick political post-mortem, said those who voted no had encountered too much hostility for the bill among their constituents, and were worried that a vote in favor would be political suicide.

The Senate had been expected to vote later in the week if the bill had cleared the House on Monday. Senate vote-counters had predicted that there was enough support in the chamber for the measure to pass. But the stunning vote in the House, coupled with the Jewish holidays, made it difficult to predict when other votes might be held. Many House members who voted for the bill held their noses, figuratively speaking, as they did so.

Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican minority leader, called the measure “a mud sandwich” at one point, but he said that there was too much at stake not to support it. He urged members to reflect on the damage that a defeat of the measure could mean “to your friends, your neighbors, your constituents” as they might watch their retirement savings “shrivel up to zero.”

And Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who as Democratic majority leader often clashes with Mr. Boehner, said that on this “day of consequence for America” he and Mr. Boehner “speak with one voice” in pleading for passage.

When it comes to America’s economy, Mr. Hoyer said, “none of us is an island.”

The House debate was heated and, occasionally, emotional up to the last minute, as illustrated by the remarks of two California lawmakers.


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