Under Pressure On Bailout, Lawmakers In Quandary

Members of Congress are getting earfuls from home about how much their constituents hate the Bush financial bailout plan. They are also getting warnings from top financial officials that if they do nothing, the economy will collapse.

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All week while congressional leaders have been huddling to negotiate a deal on the bailout, rank and file lawmakers have been fielding angry calls from home. Members of Congress are trying to figure out how to vote on the financial bailout legislation. As NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, it's not an easy decision.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: It's been a week of soul searching for many members of the house. It's an election year, and voters don't like the idea of bailing out Wall Street.

TOM DAVIS: There's no question. I think the mail's running overwhelming against this in both Republican and Democratic offices.

ELLIOTT: Virginia Republican Tom Davis is retiring, so he doesn't face the political pressure that many of his colleagues do. He's frank about the Bush administration's credibility on Capitol Hill.

DAVIS: We've been through Iraq, we've been through some other issues where they've come up here, and I think some people think they've cried wolf once too often.

ELLIOTT: Some of the most frustrated members are in the GOP ranks. Florida Republican Jeff Miller says they've been put on the spot.

JEFF MILLER: Members of Congress have been put in a very precarious position. You see people that are pretty disturbed with the way the administration has kept Congress in the dark and then tried to come at the very last minute and force a blank check down our throats.

ELLIOTT: The administration has dispatched a number of envoys to Capitol Hill, including Vice President Dick Cheney. But Miller says the pressure from the White House must be weighed against the sentiment back home that Congress has no business bailing out financiers.

MILLER: I think people want to see them in the town square drawn and quartered. People are furious. Main Street has, I don't believe, never been as mad at what is going on in Wall Street by a select group of individuals as we have now.

ELLIOTT: A main concern is the perception that Congress is helping the fat cats on the backs of working-class folks. Here's Republican Jon Porter of Nevada.

JON PORTER: I want to make sure that there aren't individuals somewhere sitting on a yacht eating shrimp and drinking champagne that have taken advantage of the American people.

ELLIOTT: Alabama Democrat Artur Davis says it doesn't help that the mortgage securities market is so complicated.

ARTUR DAVIS: It so happens that this is a very difficult issue to explain even to members, much less to people who don't live these issues every day.

ELLIOTT: Davis thinks he can sell to voters back home the package that is now emerging, one that curbs executive pay and provides help for struggling homeowners.

ATUR DAVIS: Millions of Americans are facing foreclosure or are in foreclosure right now. We've heard so many people in the financial services world say to them, well, you can't bail those people out because some of them just made risky investments and bad choices. Well, so did a lot of the entities on Wall Street.

ELLIOTT: No matter how unpalatable the remedy, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle also fear inaction. Virginia Republican Tom Davis says they all saw what happened to the markets last week.

DAVIS: So, this is serious. And doing nothing at this point will bring those same uncertainties into the marketplace and could start a run on banks and cause failures that end up hurting Main Street.

ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, the Capitol.

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