WASHINGTON — The thousands of Georgians who've phoned, written and e-mailed members of the House of Representatives over the past few days had just one message: Vote against the $700 billion bailout plan for Wall Street ... or else.
"I wanted to tell you, my husband and I plan to vote for you under one condition — that you do not vote yes for the Wall Street bailout. If you vote yes for that, you're going to lose a lot of votes. We're going to see to it. Thank you," said one caller who left a phone message for Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Grantville.
After more than 1,600 similar phone calls, e-mails and faxes, Westmoreland got the message loud and clear.
"You cannot do this type of buyout — bailout of $700 billion without adequate hearings, without hearing other alternatives," Westmoreland said Monday on the House floor.
In all, eleven of Georgia's 13 House members voted against the $700 billion plan to shore up the nation's ailing financial sector. Only Reps. Jim Marshall, D-Macon, and Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, cast votes for a measure that the Bush administration has characterized as critical to warding off a complete economic collapse.
Roughly 95 percent of the calls that flooded Marshall's office over the past few days were from constituents urging him to vote against the bailout. Still, Marshall, who has a background in finance, worried that the current fiscal climate was similar to the weeks leading up to the Great Depression.
He spent days trying to convince congressional colleagues to hold their noses and vote for the bill. Then he braced himself for the fallout.
Over the weekend, Marshall met with Democratic leaders in Washington and told them he was prepared to lose his seat over his yes vote.
"The signs we're seeing are very much like those the Hoover administration saw in 1929. It chose to do nothing. America experienced the Great Depression. That wasn't going to happen on my watch," Marshall said. "People are mad as hell and frankly I'm mad as hell. If I lose my seat because I took action, I'll sleep easy. If I wimp out and this economy crashed, I can't imagine how guilty I'd feel."
On Monday, a National Public Radio reporter interrupted their on-air interview to tell Marshall that the measure had failed.
Marshall was shocked. (Hear the interview at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95187247)
"My colleagues just pulled the trigger, I hope there's not a bullet in the chamber," he said later.
The measure failed 228-205. The stock market plunged to a record low moments after the final votes were tallied.
Most members of the state's congressional delegation dismiss the idea of Monday's failed measure as the sole means of warding off pending fiscal doom. And many of them said they aren't going to stick their necks out and risk losing their seats for something that they don't agree with politically and that might not even resolve the nation's financial woes.
Such sentiments are exactly why House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, ranking party officials and the Bush administration struggled in the days before the vote to rally support.
They certainly didn't find any among the Georgia Republican House members.
Westmoreland and the Republican House members of the state's delegation gathered in Rep. Phil Gingrey's office before the vote and realized that the G-7, as they are called, were all of one accord.
"Undoubtedly, this is one of the toughest votes that I've taken in Congress," Westmoreland said in a statement. "When faced with a tough decision, I rely on my principles — that smaller government is better and that markets work better than bureaucratic decisions. While this bailout may work in the short term, I'm concerned greatly about the long-term consequences. When government willingly steps in to rescue people from risky behavior, government creates an incentive for future risky behavior."
It is a position that put the House members at odds with their fellow Republicans in the Senate, Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss.
"This is the most important issue we've faced in a half-century. Our country is struggling. Doing nothing is unacceptable," Isakson said in statement. "I hope cooler heads will come to the table so we can move forward with a proposal that is in the best interests of the American people, their savings and their future."
Bishop, like Marshall, also voted in favor of the plan ... despite deep misgivings.
"This is a terrible, terrible time economically for the country. It's not something I felt good about. All things considered, if we fail to act consequences will be so much more severe," Bishop said. "This is not a perfect bill, but I felt given what the stakes were it was a good alternative to doing nothing."
Hill Notes is a column by Washington Correspondent Halimah Abdullah.
McClatchy Newspapers 2008