For Many, Bill Didn't Sufficiently Aid Main Street

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The House of Representatives rejected the proposed $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. Proponents said the measure was needed to stabilize the economy. Many members, facing re-election in a few weeks, said it didn't do enough for Main Street.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Well, NPR's David Welna has been following this drama unfolding today on Capitol Hill. And David, it sounded like the leaders were confident they had the votes going into this vote, and then it all fell apart. What happened?

DAVID WELNA: Well, you know, this really came as an absolute shock, Melissa. You know, not so much because there was any huge momentum from either Democrats or Republicans to pass the bill, but more because there had been so many really apocalyptic warnings made in passionate floor speeches all morning about the terrible consequences that would follow if the bailout were not approved. After all, President Bush had spoken before the markets opened today and said Congress had to pass a bailout legislation but, as it turned out, it was members of his own party who by a two-to-one margin voted against it today.

BLOCK: Right, and a lot of Democrats, as we said, as well. Now, this bill had the support, with some reservations, from both presidential candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. This vote, of course, in the House. What explains how this vote ended up today?

WELNA: Well, you know, this financial rescue scheme has been extremely unpopular with voters and after all, we're just five weeks away from when those voters will be choosing who sits for the next two years in the House's 435 seats. So, there was a lot of anguish among members today about doing what many thought may be the right thing to do, voting for the bill, versus playing it safe and voting no to avoid a backlash at the polls. Now, liberal Democrats such as Lynn Woolsey - we just heard from - also complained that this was a fix that bailed out the bad actors instead of being centered on reversing an economic downturn to reduce mortgage foreclosures that are - have caused so much bad debt. And conservative Republicans such as Mike Pence - who we just heard, also - said they voted against this bill because it betrayed their free market, private enterprise values. Now, after the vote, the explanation from GOP leader John Boehner for why so many Republicans failed to heed his pleas to vote for the bill and why it went down was, get this, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Boehner blamed the floor speech she made just before the vote for prompting a number of Republicans to change their votes.

Rep. BOEHNER: But the speaker had to give a partisan voice that poisoned our conference, caused a number of members whom we thought we could get, to go south.

WELNA: Now, Democrats called it laughable that some Republicans would change their votes on such a momentous issue just because they didn't like a floor speech In fact, Barney Frank, the financial services chairman who was really the key point man on this bill, pointed out the strange coincidence that Republicans claimed there were 12 of their members who'd intended to vote for the bill but then changed their minds, exactly the number votes that would have ensured the bill's passage. Here's what Frank had to say to reporters.

Representative BARNEY FRANK (Democrat, Massachusetts; Chairman, Financial Services Committee): I'll make an offer: Give me those 12 peoples' names, and I will go talk uncharacteristically nicely to them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. FRANK: And tell them what wonderful people they are, and maybe they'll now think about the country.

BLOCK: Well, David, after this severe kick in the teeth, what happens now to this bill and to the folks trying to put something together?

WELNA: Well, both Democrats and Republicans say, let's go back to work and try to come up with something that can pass in the House and - Speaker Pelosi indicated the House won't go in recess as planned for election campaigning but instead stay in session to get this done. But really, the atmosphere is so poisoned with partisan recriminations right now that it's a little hard to see them making nice with each other as they'd tried to do over the past week. And some say it will be seen, the negative reaction of the markets, that will force them to come up with a new fix.

BLOCK: OK, that's NPR's David Welna on Capitol Hill. David, thanks a lot.

WELNA: You're quite welcome, Melissa.

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