WASHINGTON – The House on Monday defeated a $700 billion emergency rescue package, ignoring urgent pleas from President Bush and bipartisan congressional leaders to quickly bail out the staggering financial industry. Stocks plummeted on Wall Street even before the 228-205 vote to reject the bill was announced on the House floor. When the critical vote was tallied, too few members of the House were willing to support the unpopular measure with elections just five weeks away. Ample no votes came from both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle. Bush and a host of leading congressional figures had implored the lawmakers to pass the legislation despite howls of protest from their constituents back home. The vote had been preceded by unusually aggressive White House lobbying, and spokesman Tony Fratto said that Bush had used a “call list” of people he wanted to persuade to vote yes as late as just a short time before the vote. Lawmakers shouted news of the plummeting Dow Jones average as lawmakers crowded on the House floor during the drawn-out and tense call of the roll, which dragged on for roughly 40 minutes as leaders on both sides scrambled to corral enough of their rank-and-file members to support the deeply unpopular measure. They found only two. Bush and his economic advisers, as well as congressional leaders in both parties had argued the plan was vital to insulating ordinary Americans from the effects of Wall Street’s bad bets. The version that was up for vote Monday was the product of marathon closed-door negotiations on Capitol Hill over the weekend. “We’re all worried about losing our jobs,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declared in an impassioned speech in support of the bill before the vote. “Most of us say, ‘I want this thing to pass, but I want you to vote for it — not me.’ ” With their dire warnings of impending economic doom and their sweeping request for unprecedented sums of money and authority to bail out cash-starved financial firms, Bush and his economic chiefs have focused the attention of world markets on Congress, Ryan added. “We’re in this moment, and if we fail to do the right thing, Heaven help us,” he said. Even as the electronic roll call began, Democratic and Republican leaders were uncertain about having enough votes to pass the politically unpopular plan. It’s the most sweeping government intervention in markets since the Great Depression. The bailout would have put in place an unprecedented federal program to buy up rotten assets from cash-starved firms. The goal is to free up choked credit that was threatening to cause broader market turmoil. “Many of us feel that the national interest requires us to do something which is, in many ways, unpopular,” said Rep. Barney Frank, the Financial Services Committee chairman, before the vote. “It is hard to get political credit for avoiding something that has not yet happened.” The bill was the product of marathon bargaining over the weekend among various House and Senate representatives. President Bush urged the bill’s passage, saying in a White House appearance Monday morning that “every member of Congress and every American should keep in mind that a vote for this bill is a vote to prevent economic damage to you and your community.” “With this strong and decisive legislation,” he said, “we will help restart the flow of credit so American families can meet their daily needs and American businesses can make purchases, ship goods and meet their payrolls.” As debate opened, Frank, D-Mass., called the measure “a tough vote,” but a necessary one to stave off a financial meltdown. It lets the government buy sour assets — mostly mortgage-backed securities — from struggling financial institutions in a bid to clear out clogged avenues of credit for businesses and individuals alike. At the White House, spokesman Tony Fratto confirmed vigorous efforts to get the bill through. “We’re going to keep working with them right up until the vote,” he said. Fratto also said that Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Treasury Secretary Paulson, White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and other top officials were contacting House members in an effort to rally support, and that the president himself had call list of “a couple dozen members.” Fratto said Bush was telling aides some of those he’d talked to were committed to voting for the bill while “others remained skeptical.” With their dire warnings of impending economic doom and their sweeping request for unprecedented sums of money and authority to bail out cash-starved financial firms, Bush and his economic chiefs have focused the attention of the world and the markets on Congress, said Ryan. Without the bill, Ryan added, “the worst is yet to come.” Two leading players also spoke early Monday, lobbying on morning television news shows for approval of a package deeply unpopular with a public angry that taxpayer money will save Wall Street firms from heavy risk-taking. Thousands of angry phone calls, e-mails and letters have poured into Capitol Hill from constituents. Supporters essentially acknowledged that it was a hold-your-nose-and-vote matter.
Critics on the left and right said Congress was being stampeded into hasty action on a plan that wouldn’t make a dent in the nation’s economic woes, which have at their root a subprime mortgage meltdown and the bursting of the housing bubble, followed by a wave of foreclosures.
The legislation does not require any federal action to prevent foreclosures, although it mandates that the government try renegotiating the bad mortgages it acquires with the aim of lowering borrowers’ monthly payments so they can keep their homes.
“Like the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, this bill is fueled on fear and hinges on haste,” said Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, R-Texas.