Bailout Supporters Scramble for Votes

Posted October 2, 2008 at 6:59pm

The House appears headed today for another nail-biter on the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

After Senators overwhelmingly approved a version of the rescue package on Wednesday stocked with $150 billion in tax breaks, a trickle of new House backers for the measure emerged Thursday. But it was not clear whether there would be enough converts to offset possible defections and make up the 12-vote deficit that sunk the package on Monday.

Democrats suggested that they would not lose any votes, while Republicans said they were picking some up. Only a handful of Members — Reps. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) — publicly announced Thursday that they were switching from no to yes. The Associated Press reported that Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) planned to switch. Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) announced Wednesday that he was likely to switch.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she intended to move forward without delay but made clear she would not bring the bill to the floor unless she has the votes.

A vote is scheduled for early afternoon.

“Congress must act, we must intervene, we have to send a message of confidence to the markets,” she said.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) appeared confident Republicans will pick up the votes needed to pass the bill.

“Well, we’ll definitely have the votes unless we rush to a final decision on this vote,” Blunt told MSNBC, adding that he was confident it would be today.

Blunt said constituent calls are starting to swing more in favor of the package, and Members were pleased by the addition of expanded Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insurance and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to roll back mark-to-market accounting rules.

One official familiar with the vote-counting effort by legislation supporters was optimistic. This source said 15 Republicans who had voted against the measure Monday were set to switch their votes today, and at least another five were likely to join them.

Among the rank and file, predictions abounded.

Wamp said he thought Republicans could deliver five to seven new votes. Several Democratic aides pointed to the addition of business-friendly tax extenders as sweeteners for moderate Democrats, a third of whom opposed the package on Monday.

But the path to 218 remained clouded by the potential loss of Blue Dog Democrats who are angry at the inclusion of a tax-cut package that violates pay-as-you-go budget rules. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) emerged from an hourlong meeting with the Blue Dogs saying none had yet said they would reverse their vote.

“We’re all angry, we’re all frustrated,” said Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), a co-chairman of the Blue Dogs. “I don’t know how we’ll vote tomorrow.”

Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), another co-chairman of the Blue Dogs, isn’t convinced of the need to act today. “If it takes two, three, four days, it’s important that we get it right,” he said.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a Blue Dog who will vote for the package again, described the meeting as a “therapy” session.

“There’s a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth,” he said. “There was some very vivid language.”

Cooper said there is hope that some Republicans are so burned that they will vote yes, and he dismissed talk by some of his colleagues of changing the bill at this point.

“We don’t get to amend this thing. We’ve got to be realistic about this. We failed to pass our bill. We can’t keep ping-ponging with our economy.”

Cooper said the $1 trillion-plus loss in the stock market after Monday’s defeat is helping to educate some Members on the need for a bill quickly.

Other Members who had voted no earlier were put in tough spots because of the inclusion of the tax provisions, including Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who are backers of the renewable-energy tax credits. Oregon also would benefit hugely from a rural schools provision.

They said they are unsure how they will vote.

Meanwhile, conservative Republican opposition appeared to be softening, with conservative Republican Study Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) saying he hadn’t decided yet how he will vote and is keeping an open mind. RSC members did not hold out much hope of finding votes among their group.

The Republican calculus was complicated Thursday when about two dozen GOPers — a mix of yes and no votes on Monday — teamed up to offer a plan that would slash up to $250 billion of the money made available to the Treasury secretary, with the rest shelved pending a sign-off by lawmakers in November. The proposal, crafted by Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), would also cut four multimillion-dollar projects added in the Senate — derided as indefensible pork by Republicans. Most of the provisions were targeted tax proposals.

House leaders were expected to block the amendment, throwing into doubt the status of those pushing it. One of its backers, Financial Services ranking member Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), said he would “seriously consider” flipping to oppose the package today if the amendment was not adopted.

One potentially rich source of Republican conversions is the Texas delegation, where only 4 of 19 GOPers backed the measure on Monday, a stiff rebuke to President Bush, who had reached out to many of those lawmakers last week.

Bush kept the heat on the delegation this week. His efforts to win over home-state House Republicans appeared to get a boost from the Senate vote, in which both Texas GOP Senators — John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison — supported the package.

But after the delegation huddled Thursday, it was unclear if Bush’s lobbying would produce any results.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who opposed the package on its first try, said a call from the president this week didn’t change his mind.

But he also said the Texas delegation is “chewing on it, and certain Senate actions have to be factored in.”

Exiting the meeting, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) said the Lone Star State Republicans had discussed “if they heard something new or different to give them guidance on a very difficult vote.” But he called the Senate’s amendments “window dressing” and said his vote remained the same. “Unfortunately, there’s just a lot of ifs and what ifs,” he said. Asked if the Senate add-ons might help the bill, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said, “I think it might end up hurting them.”

While the Senate vote could help give political cover to Texas Republicans who decide to back the bill today, it complicated efforts to win over lawmakers in other states. All the Senators from Alabama, Kansas and Louisiana voted against the measure.

Still, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), who opposed it on Monday, said he was encouraged by changes including the increase in FDIC insurance and the SEC’s decision to roll back mark-to-market accounting rules, but is still talking to Treasury officials about how the plan to buy bad debt would actually work and is uncertain how he’ll vote.

Emily Yehle and Keith Koffler contributed to this report.