For once, Congress heard as voters protested bailout plan

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 29, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Almost until the early afternoon vote Monday on the financial rescue plan, voters bombarded congressional offices, protesting almost in unison: Don't bail out renegade financial executives and companies.

On Monday, House members, who face the voters in five weeks, listened to their constituents rather than their party leaders and rejected the $700 billion financial rescue package. For many, it was just too much to swallow too quickly, and too hard to explain.

Most House members said, "I want this thing to pass, but I want you to vote for it, not me," explained Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who voted for the bill.

The 228 votes against the plan included 95 Democrats and 133 Republicans, a mix of conservatives, liberals and members in tough re-election fights.

Conservatives saw too much government interference in free markets and too high a price tag; liberals thought it provided too much help for Wall Street and not enough for distressed homeowners.

"There's a real sense of frustration. People see their tax dollars spent bailing out financial institutions, and they themselves are not doing well," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who represents a predominantly black Baltimore district. He voted no.

From the opposite end of the political spectrum came conservatives such as Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.

"This Congress, in a rushed effort to provide stability to a troubled credit market, did not adequately discuss or investigate potential alternatives that would have constituted a workout and not a bailout," he said.

Hensarling, Cummings and lots of others had pleaded with their leaders to give them a bill they could explain easily back home. Constituents wanted Congress to act, they said, but were suspicious of what they might do.

Instead, many members found the compromise that emerged to be too complex, fueling constituents' qualms.

Most lawmakers knew that what had happened was something much more fundamental: Members voted to please the folks back home, not their leaders in Washington or the titans of Wall Street.

"This is the same politics of fear we are hearing from the fat cat financial bullies from Wall Street," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who voted no.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., recalled how many people voted for hard-to-understand measures such as the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill or 2002 legislation giving President Bush broad authority to wage war in Iraq, only to learn later that they'd signed blank checks to Bush that would come to haunt them.

"There were a lot of eyes rolling on this bailout. We're heard this kind of thing before," said Flake, who voted no.

After the bill failed Monday, each side accused the other of scuttling the measure for political gain.

"We see a lot of people on the Republican side trying to bail themselves out after eight years of voting in lockstep with the president," said House Democratic Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Nonsense, countered GOP members.

"We could have gotten there today had it not been for the partisan speech that the speaker gave on the floor of the House," said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, for inflaming GOP sensibilities.

Pelosi blasted Bush's economic policies and lashed out at "a right wing ideology of anything goes, no supervision, no discipline, no regulation."

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee who led efforts to craft the compromise plan, said of GOP remarks such as Boehner's: "I am appalled." We're facing a national crisis, he said, and Republicans are saying their members voted against the proposed remedy "because somebody hurt their feelings, they decide to punish the country."

Neither the House nor the Senate will vote Tuesday because of the Jewish New Year, but the Senate could debate the measure. No one, though, could say what might emerge as consensus legislation, or when.

Chairman Frank couldn't say if leaders will try to tweak the bill that failed or come up with a new, easier-to-explain plan.

"That's a question we have to address," said Frank."

"I don't know that we know the path forward at this point," said House Republican leader Boehner.

The Senate, where only 34 of 100 seats are up on Nov. 4, is expected to pass the legislation easily. After the chaos Monday in the House, the Senate's mood was calm, and people remained upbeat about eventual passage.

"A lot of people have misgivings," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., one of the Senate's leading conservative voices. "I have a lot of misgivings, but I'm still going to vote for it."

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY:

Dow falls nearly 7 percent in wake of House bailout defeat

One Republican explains why he switched his 'no' vote

FDIC moves to have Citigroup acquire Wachovia

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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