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On Second Go-Around, House Passes Bailout Bill


From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel. There was applause in the House of Representatives today as the 'yays' finally prevailed in the vote on the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. Bailout or rescue, whatever you call it, it is now the law. It passed the House 263-171, a comfortable margin that was missing when a similar plan was defeated this past Monday. President Bush swiftly signed the bill into law. NPR's Debbie Elliott has this report from The Capitol.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: This was what members of Congress call a legacy vote and House Republican Leader John Boehner invoked a higher power as he implored his colleagues to support the bill. He pointed them to the motto posted above the speaker's rostrum, 'In God We Trust.'

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): I've said my prayers this morning like I do every morning so that I can understand and feel better about the votes that I cast. We're in the midst of a recession. It's a going to be a rough ride. But it'll be a whole lot rougher ride if we don't pass this bill. Remember those words, 'In God We Trust,' because we're going to need His help.

ELLIOTT: The plan allows the government to buy up to $700 billion in bad debt from struggling financial institutions, a prospect that was met with a public outcry at the start of the week. But Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said over the last four days, American's saw the consequences of congresses in action.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland): They have told us in the strongest terms we expect the people's house to act in a way that they think best to save our economy, to protect our dreams, to make America whole again.

ELLIOTT: Lawmakers were clearly frustrated with their choice.

Representative ZACK WAMP (Republican, Tennessee): Nobody needs Tennessee hates the fact more than me that I'm going to vote 'yes' today after voting 'no' on Monday.

ELLIOTT: Tennessee Republican Zack Wamp said economic conditions have lawmakers' backs to a wall.

Representative WAMP: Things are critical. We don't even have gas at the stations in East Tennessee. Economic anxiety is hurting the families. I've been listening to small business people all week long and they've said it. Thanks for voting no on Monday and thanks for standing up for us but you got to do something. Congress has to act. We're out of options. Hold your hand over your heart and vote yes.

ELLIOTT: In the end, 58 members switched their votes including the man known as the 'Conscience of the House,' Georgia Democrat John Lewis.

Representative JOHN LEWIS (Democrat, Georgia): Madame Speaker, I have decided that the cost for doing nothing is greater than the cost of doing something. Your fear that has ripped Wall Street has the power to shut down Main Street. We can not and we must not allow this to happen. We must act.

ELLIOTT: The senate had added popular tax breaks and other sweeteners to the bailout to garner broader support. Conservative opponents called the extras 'a bribe for votes.' Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling argued the bill was a threat to the nation's free market system.

Representative JEB HENSARLING (Republican, Texas): I fear that this legislation still remains more of a bailout than a workout. I fear that it undermines the ethic of being personal responsibility. How can we have capitalism on the way up and socialism on the way down?

ELLIOTT: Appearing in the Rose Garden shortly after the House passed the rescue package, President Bush called it essential to helping America's economy weather the financial crisis.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We've shown the world that the United States of America will stabilize our financial markets and maintain a leading role in the global economy.

ELLIOTT: Although Democratic leaders also hailed passage, it was with a somber tone. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

House Speaker NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California 8th District): We were dealt a bad hand. We made the most of it. I think the American people will benefit from it.

ELLIOTT: Pelosi said Congress will now shine a 'bright light of accountability' on the financial market so that this doesn't happen again. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, The Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.