House Moves Shakily Forward on Bailout

Posted September 28, 2008 at 9:15pm

The House is making unsteady progress toward a final deal on a $700 billion bailout package for the financial markets, with both parties warily eyeing each other for signs that they will commit enough votes so a bipartisan victory can be declared. Both the House Republican Conference and House Democratic Caucus spent hours cloistered in closed-door sessions Sunday night as Congressional leaders tried to gather support for the package within their own ranks by putting outstanding questions about it to rest. All eyes are on the House Republicans, who threw talks on a deal into disarray Thursday when they abandoned bipartisan, bicameral negotiations with the White House. Rank-and-file GOPers trickling out of their more than three-hour meeting Sunday night said the final bill is more palatable to Republicans than previous proposals, but it is unlikely that there will be a unified floor vote on Monday. The bill filed tonight is “a giant improvement” over previous proposals, namely because it considerably reduces taxpayer risk, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters after the meeting. “At the end of the day, there really is no taxpayer risk in this bill,” Boehner said, referring to mandated insurance provisions in the package. Asked how many Members will vote for the bill, Boehner said he didn’t know but that GOP leaders “are working on it. … I made it pretty clear to our Members that we are supporting this.” House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) described the plan as a “work out of the problem” instead of a “bailout of the problem.” Members still haven’t seen the actual bill, so tonight’s meeting was basically “a session of just answering questions,” Blunt said. Aides in the meeting said Boehner and Blunt received a standing ovation at its start. At one point, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) received “a tepid response” when he proposed starting from scratch and coming up with a new bill, according to one aide. Many Democrats said they still have serious concerns with the proposal. Several heading out of their nearly three-hour huddle in the Capitol basement pledged to vote against it. Others said they were heading back to their offices to give the bill text a careful read and were reserving judgment. In a development that could complicate leaders’ efforts to manage the vote, others said their support would depend in part on whether Republicans were lining up behind the package in sizable numbers. Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) said the level of Republican support would “determine a lot of votes” on the Democratic side of the aisle. “This is their baby,” added Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.). “I’m going to base my decision on what I think. But there is a political element to it.” Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), who remained undecided after the Sunday night caucus, called the vote his toughest in two terms. On top of substantive concerns, he said, “I’m waiting to see, as we’re all waiting to see, what Republicans do on this. … I’m not sure how that’s going to work out. It’s another interesting piece of the puzzle.” There were signs Sunday night that Republican support for the plan was building, though question marks remained over many GOPers. House Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who up until now has been critical of the bailout proposal, said the newly added provision in the bill that ties taxpayer dollars to an insurance program “will end up being very successful.” Rep. Scott Garrett (N.J.), a member of the influential Republican Study Committee, told reporters outside the Conference meeting that at least some of the conservative group will back the plan, although he said he would be voting against it. “I think a number of them will,” he said, when asked if RSC members will support the proposal. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said the bill contains substantial improvements over its initial version but that many Members are still unsure how to vote. “The winner of the Republican caucus is the undecideds,” Barton said. “I really think half the caucus is truly undecided.” Barton suggested pushing back a vote on the bill until later this week because, with so many lingering questions, it will be “hard to get an informed vote” by Monday. Republicans are “much happier with this bill now since the blowup at the White House,” Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) said, referring to House Republicans’ refusal to go along with the initial proposals. Many Republicans still have a lot of questions, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) said. “Some of it may come down to gut at the end.” Rep. Christopher Shays said he is “leaning yes” on the bill but is “not a committed yes.” “I think you will see a majority of Republicans supporting this,” the Connecticut Republican said. Garrett said one lawmaker in the GOP huddle went so far as to suggest the possibility that more Republicans would vote for the package than Democrats. That scenario didn’t seem likely to others. “You’re crazy as a loon,” Barton said. “That ain’t gonna happen.”