Bailout Passed With A Bang And A Whimper

The two-week drama over the fate of a $700 billion bailout bill ended Friday with the House passing the financial rescue plan that it had rejected on Monday. Fifty-seven lawmakers switched their votes from no to yes, but others remained adamantly opposed to the end.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The House voted Friday to reverse itself and pass the revamped, reframed, and sweetened multibillion-dollar bailout plan for the U.S. financial industry. The hope is to stabilize the economy. President Bush signed the bill in a New York second. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: On Monday, when House Minority Leader John Boehner asked fellow Republicans to vote for the bailout bill, two-thirds of them ignored him and opposed it. When the House tried again to pass the bill, Boehner refrained from putting his authority on the line. Instead, he was philosophical with Republicans who expressed fears that voting for the bailout could hurt them at the polls in November.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Minority Leader): I told them that whether you vote yes or you vote no, you've got to go home and defend this. And it's a lot easier to defend your vote if you in your own mind will just do the right thing.

WELNA: And Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen, another bailout backer, reminded colleagues of the words of the Anglo-Irish philosopher Edmund Burke who said it's the duty of a legislator to listen to his constituents, but also to vote for what he thinks is in their best interests.

Representative STEVE COHEN (Democrat, Tennessee): Years later, another great British philosopher, Mick Jagger, said sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes you get what you need. This time, Madam Speaker, we're going to do what the American economy needs.

WELNA: Fellow Tennessean Zach Wamp was one of 26 Republicans who switched their no votes on the bailout to a yes.

Representative ZACH WAMP (Republican, Tennessee): I don't like this at all. As a matter of fact, I hate it. It's disgusting that we would ever be brought to this floor to have to cast this vote, but we're out of options.

WELNA: And California's Barbara Lee was among the 32 Democrats who also voted for the bailout after voting against it.

Representative BARBARA LEE (Democrat, California): We don't know that this is the appropriate economic strategy. Some economists say yes, some economists say no. But I must be honest about the fact that I can't afford to risk the potential consequences of inaction based on what I know today.

WELNA: But others who voted against the bailout Monday remained adamantly opposed. Ohio Republican Steve LaTourette called yesterday's vote a Hobson's choice.

Representative STEVE LATOURETTE (Republican, Ohio): And what we're being told today is that we either give $700 billion to the secretary of the Treasury, because he says that's what's needed, in a plan that's untested, unworked, or and if we don't just write this check, we're being told that all of our constituents are going to lose their life savings, their 401(k)s, their retirements. That's a hell of a choice.

WELNA: Fellow Republican Jeb Hensarling of Texas warned of a slide to socialism.

Representative JEB HENSARLING (Republican, Texas): How can we have capitalism on the way up and socialism on the way down?

WELNA: That prompted a tight reply from Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank.

Representative BARNEY FRANK (Democrat, California; Chairman, House Financial Services Committee): Ever mindful of the danger that George Bush will lead us down the road to socialism, we will be monitoring this very closely.

WELNA: President Bush in fact did acknowledge at the White House that government was indeed riding to the rescue.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's a strong supporter of free enterprise. I believe government intervention should occur only when necessary. In this situation, action is clearly necessary.

WELNA: The president signed the bailout bill into law 90 minutes after its passage. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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