Page last updated at 01:48 GMT, Saturday, 4 October 2008 02:48 UK

Why did bail-out pass this time?

By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Washington

Congressional leaders waited anxiously for 15 minutes, counting the Ayes and Nays and hoping for the magic number of 218.

Steps leading up to the House of Representatives in Washington DC
Lots of lobbying took place in between the two House votes

They were 13 votes short on Monday when the rescue bill faced a stunning defeat in the House.

But this second vote came at the end of an intense week of lobbying, slumping markets all over the world, dire warnings of financial Armageddon and a vote in the Senate which brought some political cover for the difficult decision.

Crucially, some amendments had also been made to the text of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.

No jubilation

The 435 members of the lower House of Congress probably spent a few sleepless nights this week as the second vote loomed and they struggled with their decision, under intense pressure from the White House, their constituents and their colleagues.

In the end, 58 Congress members switched their vote from No to Yes - 32 Democrats and 26 Republicans.

When the gavel fell, there was relief and a brief moment of applause, but no jubilation or cheers.

None of those who voted in favour - neither the switchers nor those who had been on board from the beginning - did so with a light heart.

Monday what we had was a bailout for Wall Street firms and not much relief for taxpayers and hard-hit families, now we have an economic rescue package
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Republican congresswoman

"I don't like this at all, as a matter of fact, I think it's disgusting that we would have to be brought to this, to have to cast this vote," said Zach Wamp, a Republican from Tennessee who switched his vote to a Yes during the week.

"But we're out of options, we don't have a month to rewrite the bill."

Overall, the switchers seemed to fall into two main categories: those who were swayed by the vote in the Senate and those who were alarmed by the market slump which followed their stunning defeat of the bill on Monday.

Before Monday's vote, they were receiving overwhelmingly angry and worried phone calls from their constituents, who were telling them to vote against the bill.

But as the week progressed, many members of Congress started to notice a shift in the tone of the calls.

They began hearing more and more from people who were hurting because of the crisis.

John Sullivan, a Republican from Oklahoma, said fears about the economy pushed him to switch from No to Yes.

Sue Myrick, a Republican from North Carolina, made the decision after talking to small businesses in her district.

"I think it's the best thing for the country right now," Ms Myrick was quoted as saying by Congressional Quarterly.

"I talked to people I trust... good solid businesses. They could not get credit."

Democrat John Lewis from Georgia said he had concluded that "the cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of doing something. The people are afraid. Their retirement savings are slipping away. Small businesses have no sales, no credit and are closing their doors."

"The scope of this serious crisis is reaching regular Tennesseans. From those saving for retirement to families who need loans for automobiles, homes or college and small businesses that need loans to meet payroll or expand their operations," said Mr Wamp.


The tone and media coverage also changed during the week.

After first being described as a bail-out, the bill was now being called a rescue package, and all those lobbying to push it through were emphasising that this was meant to help the average American on Main Street, not the bankers of Wall street.

Adding to people's fears about a looming recession, on Friday morning, before the vote, a Labour department report showed that 159,000 jobs were cut last month, a ninth consecutive monthly reduction and the biggest in five and a half years.

But the amendments made by the Senate, which approved the bill on Wednesday with a good majority, also played a role, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Senate added sweeteners to a bitter pill - tax breaks and a rise in the value of bank deposits covered by federal insurance.

Secondly, it gave some political cover for hesitant Representatives (the whole House is up for election in November).

And thirdly, it gave members of Congress the sense that they were not just giving President George W Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson a blank check of $700bn.

A lot of lawmakers said they resented how the administration had handled the proposal and said they felt the bill was being forced onto them.

The initial three-page plan is now a 451-page bill.

Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Florida, said she was switching to a Yes vote after the Senate added some $110m in tax breaks and raised federal insurance on bank deposits from $100,000 to $250,000, among other amendments.

"Monday what we had was a bailout for Wall Street firms and not much relief for taxpayers and hard-hit families," Ms Ros-Lehtinen told The Associated Press.

"Now we have an economic rescue package."

"This is a better bill, but it's tough out there," said Republican J Gresham Barrett from South Carolina.

"I have talked to my Moms, I have talked to my Pops, I have talked to my corporations. No matter what we do or what we pass there is still tough times out there. People are hurting, people are mad. I'm mad."

When the Senate debated the amendments ahead of the vote on Wednesday, they were mindful that they needed to make sure that in their attempts to win over opponents of the bill, they did not lose any supporters.

In the end, they seem to have struck the right balance.

Only one lawmaker switched from a Yes on Monday to a No on Friday: Democrat Jim McDermott from Washington. He said the Senate changes and the expensive tax breaks the bill now included had made it worse.

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