Politics & Government

Four Washington lawmakers pressured to change bailout votes

WASHINGTON — Just days after they voted against the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, four Washington state lawmakers faced mounting pressure Thursday to change their minds as the House prepared to take up the rescue package again.

While the lawmakers — Republican Reps. Dave Reichert, Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers along with Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee -- were still hearing from "Joe Public," they faced a full-court lobbying blitz from the business community.

But as of late Thursday, none had publicly switched.

"I'm still leaning no, but I haven't decided yet," said Reichert. "If you are going to roll the dice, I want it to be in favor of the taxpayer."

"If the bailout provisions he voted on Monday remain the same, it's fair to expect his vote will remain the same," Will Marlow, a Hastings spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Backers of the bill need to reverse a dozen votes to change the outcome.

Local banks, real estate companies, car dealers and small business owners weighed in. Along with such major corporations as Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser and Alaska Airlines, they were asking lawmakers to support the package when it comes up Friday. Lawmakers were also hearing from such groups as the National Association of Counties, the American Forest and Paper Association, the Aerospace Industries Association and the Information Technology Industry Council.

"Passage of legislation is vital to the health and preservation of jobs in all sectors of Washington state and the nation," Heidi Biggs Block, Weyerhaeuser's chief lobbyist said in an e-mail to lawmakers, adding the tight credit market was effecting new home construction.

Microsoft's top lobbyist, Jack Krumholtz, said in an e-mail he wanted to "reinforce how strongly we support Congress passing legislation aimed at re-instilling confidence in the financial markets."

Others were more subtle. Costco forwarded a copy of a memo it had sent its employees outlining its still "strong" financial position and hoping "our world leaders will be wise enough and courageous enough to guide us through this difficult crisis."

House leaders were also expected to lobby. Inslee talked Thursday with Democratic leadership. But Reichert said he hadn't been approached.

"I'm not getting any pressure from leadership at all, but you feel the pressure anyway," Reichert said.

Congressional offices said they were still being swamped by phone calls, e-mails and letters.

Reichert's Web site typically gets about 300 hits a day. On Monday, more than 2,500 people logged in and though the number had dropped by midweek, it was still almost six times normal.

There has been a shift in what people are saying. Reichert said earlier this week that the calls and e-mails were running 99-1 against the bailout. Now, it's about 70-30 against.

The Senate's decision to attach a provision extending various tax breaks to the bailout bill, including the state sales deduction, also could help sway some of the members. Washington state residents save $350 million to $500 million annually by deducting the state sales tax from their federal returns, but the tax break has expired.

"It's a very difficult vote," said Connie Partoyan, McMorris Rodgers' chief of staff. "The tax extenders are important, but there are still questions about the feasibility of this. There are no guarantees this is the silver bullet."

Marlow, Hastings' spokesman, said that although his boss had long supported the state sales tax deduction, "at the end of the day, his vote will be based on the provisions of the bailout itself, not extra items added to it."

Reichert said some of his constituents believe the bill has become a "Christmas tree" for various interests. He said that even though he supports the sales tax deduction, he thinks the extension could be passed in another bill.

Meanwhile, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., sought Thursday to further explain her decision to vote against the bailout. Cantwell was one of nine Democrats to oppose the measure, even though it included extensions of the state sales tax deduction and various renewable energy tax breaks she has championed. The final Senate vote was 74-25.

Cantwell said that rather than using $700 billion in taxpayer dollars to buy the worst assets of unstable financial institution, the money should be used to buy a part of the institution. That could leverage trillions of dollars in private investment and the government might end up owning a share of a healthy company instead of just a collection of bad assets, she said.

"How did we get to the point where we are giving away $700 billion?" Cantwell said in a telephone interview.

Cantwell said she wanted to offer an amendment that would have allowed the government to buy into financially ailing companies, but Senate Majority Harry Reid argued against it.

"Everyone was getting jammed," she said. "Reid was like, 'How long do you want to be here?' My answer was 'I want to get it right.'"

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