SEPTEMBER 29, 2008, 3:56 P.M. ET
Bailout Bill Fails in House Vote
Amid Defections in Both Parties
WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives delivered a stunning defeat to legislation designed to rescue the nation’s troubled financial system, sweeping aside a call from President Bush to “send a strong signal” of confidence to markets at home and abroad.
The 228-205 vote Monday exposed deep unease among rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties with what would be an unprecedented intervention in the private sector. The vote came as turmoil in financial markets widened, prompting the Federal Reserve to inject new capital into credit markets and forcing the government-arranged sale of Wachovia Corp. to Citigroup.
The Bush-backed package now faces an uncertain future, though party leaders on both sides of the aisle are sure to consider revising the initiative, which Mr. Bush said Monday is needed to “keep the crisis in our financial system from spreading throughout our economy.”
After the vote, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) said there would be an effort to bring back another bill, with further changes. “We’ve got to find a true middle ground,” he said. “We need everybody to calm down and relax and get back to work.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle suggested the legislation is not dead. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said at a press conference that the “lines of communication” remain open between policymakers and that Congress needs to take another “bite at the apple” on the market rescue plan legislation.
“It is difficult for me to imagine we would leave the market to its own devices and fears until Friday,” said Rep. Adam Putnam (R., Fla.), the third-highest ranking Republican in the House. “We’re encouraging members to understand the consequences to doing nothing, but I think members have strong convictions about this bill.”
Ahead of the vote, Republican and Democratic leaders closed ranks around the White House, in a display of bipartisanship that further underscored the challenges facing the nation.
Mr. Boehner — who last week quash an agreement between other congressional leaders — urged lawmakers in advance of the roll call to set aside “what’s in the best interest of our party,” to instead consider the interest of the nation. “These are the votes that separate the men from the boys, and the girls from the women,” said Mr. Boehner, who choked up as he spoke. Mr. Boehner also made clear the vote was going to be close, saying it “is in serious doubt.”
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Ahead of the vote, Mr. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney, along with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, joined in lobbying for the bill, telephoning wavering rank-and file Republicans. A wide range of business groups, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Business Roundtable, also pressed lawmakers in an effort to shore up support.
The measure would give Treasury a $700 billion line of credit and wide authority to buy the toxic mortgages, securities and financial assets that are undermining market confidence and threatening to tilt the U.S. into recession.
Under the bill, the money would be released in installments, with $250 billion being made available to Treasury immediately, followed shortly by another $100 billion. The final installment would be released after the president submits a plan detailing use of the funds, and lawmakers are given a 15 days to consider a resolution of disapproval. Alongside the basic bailout, the bill would require Treasury to establish an insurance-based program to buy up bad assets, under which participating institutions would be charged a premium and given access to a fund that would also be used to help finance bailout.
The Bush administration is hoping financial markets will stabilize, as bad assets are pulled under the government’s wing. Under the legislation, troubled banks and investment firms would qualify for government assistance, as would pension plans, local governments, and small banks.
The measure was brought to the House floor after several days of sometimes testy negotiations, and a marathon series of talks over the weekend. The effort was spurred by Mr. Bush’s surprise declaration more than 10 days ago that the financial architectural of the country was faltering, and in need of immediate repair.
For rank and file lawmakers, the vote forced upon them produced anger and soul-searching about the economic and political costs of the bailout, and a difficult choice: whether to safely vote no on an issue unpopular with voters or swing behind a measure the nation’s top economic leaders insist is needed to avoid a recession.
And across the Capitol, there was an overwhelming sense that decisions made on the plan would be career defining. There is no extra courage to go around,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D., Tenn.).
Many lawmakers said they weren’t willing to go out on a limb. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.) said there still were “major questions unanswered” about the need for bailout. She said Wall Street isn’t being asked to pony up enough to fund the rescue, and voiced doubts about whether the Bush administration—which engineered a series of earlier market interventions, including the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – should be trusted this go-around.
“President Bush and Secretary Paulson have been wrong from the start about just about everything,” she said.
Concern about the package was deepest among House Republicans, especially conservatives troubled with the cost and scope of the powers that would be granted Treasury. Negotiators tried to accommodate those concerns, adding in the insurance proposal, as a way to bring a more free-market patina to the bill.
But many Republicans still found the measure difficult to support. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas) said he understands the “grave situation that every American will face should our credit markets freeze,” but warned the bailout would fundamentally change the role of government in the economy. “I cannot in good conscience support this legislation,” he said.