MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Members of Congress are getting an earful this week. Their offices have been flooded with calls and emails. The blogs have been buzzing with comments. Their constituents are weighing in and not mincing words about the proposed $700 billion bailout for Wall Street. NPR's Yuki Noguchi visited one congressman, a California Democrat, for a window into what he's hearing.
YUKI NOGUCHI: It's been like this all week.
Mr. HAMPDEN MACBETH (Staff Assistant, Office of Representative Adam Schiff): Congressman Schiff's office.
NOGUCHI: Hampden Macbeth is the front-office guy for Representative Adam Schiff. He's dealing with phone calls and reading the emails, hundreds of them.
Mr. MACBETH: (Reading) If the economy in general is given enough encouragement, the growth return may offset the cost of correction.
NOGUCHI: That's a rare one voicing support for the plan. More often, Macbeth says, they sound like this one.
Mr. MACBETH: (Reading) Please do not give the Treasury Department a blank check. I do not have confidence in our government to manage a problem of this magnitude.
NOGUCHI: And then there are those who write in asking something like this.
Mr. MACBETH: (Reading) Does the U.S. government hand out free money so a person like me can pay off the credit cards?
NOGUCHI: The writer goes on to say he sure could use $60,000 to settle his personal debts. Adam Schiff's district has lots of people sounding financial distress. Southern California generally suffers one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, and the failed IndyMac Bank is in his district.
Representative ADAM SCHIFF (Democrat, California): People are saying, you know, why are we bailing out these investors? No one's helping me. Where does it all end?
NOGUCHI: Schiff, who's in his fourth term, says he's taking all this into consideration.
How many hours do you devote thinking about this?
Representative SCHIFF: Pretty much every waking hour in one form or another.
NOGUCHI: His week is a vortex of meetings and phone calls as he tries to decide how to cast his vote on a possible bailout package.
Representative SCHIFF: I'm still groping for an answer.
NOGUCHI: He says he doesn't want to move too quickly and get things wrong. He's not convinced the vast sum of money the Treasury Department wants is necessary. And if it is, he wants taxpayers to get a share in the companies that get to pawn off their bad loans. He sought advice from economists and experts, but he says he's left with a moral dilemma.
Representative SCHIFF: I had one of my neighbors say, we live near you in Burbank. My daughter went to school with your daughter in preschool.
NOGUCHI: But now that parent is sick and too scared to seek treatment because they lack health insurance.
Representative SCHIFF: And those are the kind of real-world situations that people confront you with, that, you know, really echo in your thoughts when you are trying to appraise something like this. If we're talking about $700 billion, is it a better investment to prop up some of these failing firms, or is it better to put 700 million into providing health care for that family?
NOGUCHI: The Cannon Office Building where Schiff works is made of marble and stone. It's built like it could withstand thousands of years.
Representative SCHIFF: We go about our lives most of the year, every year, thinking there's a great solidity to the institutions that surround us, that it's strong. And then you have a moment like this, which causes you to question all those underlying assumptions.
NOGUCHI: Do you enjoy this kind of thing?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Representative SCHIFF: Well, I don't know if enjoy is the right word. It is what makes this job such a challenge, and I do like the challenge. But I feel a little bit like I'm living inside what originally I thought was a proverb, but it turns out as a curse, "May you live in interesting times." And we are certainly living in interesting times.
Mr. MACBETH: OK. Great. And I'll let the congressman know that you would like him to oppose the bailout. Thank you so much. All right. Bye.
NOGUCHI: For the congressman and his staff, the end of the week feels like three very long days away. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.