The House is expected to pass legislation today for a multibillion-dollar financial services bailout, though questionable GOP support means Democrats will likely have to push it across the finish line, forcing much of their caucus to take a politically unpopular vote just weeks before Election Day.
Sources inside a lengthy closed-door meeting of House GOP members Sunday evening said the measure to give authority to the Treasury Department to purchase up to $700 billion in bad mortgage debt that is at the heart of the credit crisis would not pass on the backs of Republican lawmakers, as a long line of members continued to raise questions.
The division within the GOP Conference came even as their leaders backed the measure as the only alternative, even though it will be the largest government bailout that will give Treasury an equity stake in at-risk financial institutions. "We've made it pretty clear to our members that we are supporting the bill," House Minority Leader Boehner said of the GOP leadership. Standing next to him were Minority Whip Blunt, Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam of Florida and House Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.
"I'm encouraging every member of our caucus whose conscience will allow it to support this bill," Boehner said. Even though House Speaker Pelosi argued that Republican votes were essential to passage, lawmakers leaving a closed-door meeting of Democratic lawmakers said privately that they were told the measure would come for a floor vote and they expected enough Democrats would back the bill to ensure passage -- even with less-than-ideal GOP backing.
"Enough people get it that they have to back our leadership" said one liberal Democrat. Pelosi did not want to make her members walk the plank on a politically explosive vote while GOP members get a pass, wanting at least the support of up to 100 House Republicans to give a bipartisan stamp of approval.
The focus on the House comes as policymakers wanted to send a strong signal of support for the bill when financial markets opened Monday. The Senate is expected to pass the bill more easily but is waiting for the House to act because revenue measures must originate there. During lengthy negotiations Saturday, Blunt fought for a key provision demanded by his Conference: inclusion of an insurance fund to guarantee half of all mortgage-backed securities that the federal government does not already guarantee. Blunt was able to kill other Democratic provisions unpopular with Republicans.
Still, "most Republicans hate this," said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas. Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., said many members were concerned that the insurance program is not mandatory, believing that Treasury Secretary Paulson will not pursue the option because he does not think it will work. "Democrats have decided to suppress their ideology and just take the package," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. Shays noted that many GOP members cannot vote for it "because they don't want the government to own a business."
This article appears in the October 4, 2008 edition of NJ Daily.