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African-American Lawmakers Split on Rescue Bill

Black America Web , News feature, Staff Posted: Sep 30, 2008

Some black lawmakers in Congress expressed disappointment in the defeat of a $700 billion rescue of the nations financial system in the House on Monday, but said the vote may signal an opportunity to finally put partisanship aside and come up with a solution acceptable to the financial community and average Americans.

Stocks plummeted on Wall Street after the House voted 228-205 to defeat the legislation, despite urgent warnings from President Bush and congressional leaders of both parties that the economy could nosedive into recession without it.

After lengthy bipartisan negotiations, we came to the floor today with a piece of legislation that the members of our (Democratic) caucus decided was in the best interest of the country, House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), said at a news conference with Congressional leaders after the vote. Sixty percent of them put aside their individual feelings, emotions, experiences and voted for this bill. Sixty-seven percent of the Republican conference decided to put political ideology ahead of the best interest of our great nation.

Im hopeful that as we move forward, we can all join hands, set aside our partisanship and do whats in the best interest of our country, and I hope that will happen in the next few days, Clyburn said.

As the market plunged, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Congress cannot go home without stabilizing the markets and offering a new bill.

I received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls, overwhelmingly opposed to the plan Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson proposed, Norton said in a statement. Today, Americans continued to see the benefit to Wall Street but not to themselves, notwithstanding many improvements to the original bill.

They did not see their own pension funds, mutual funds and 401Ks that dominate todays Wall Street, nor the harm the markets are inflicting on the value of their homes, the primary asset of most Americans, Norton said.

Said Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.): Congress has no choice but to pass this financial rescue package and begin the long and difficult road of correcting eight years of economic mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility.

In all, 65 Republicans joined 140 Democrats in voting yes, while 133 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted no.

In the face of thousands of phone calls and e-mails fiercely opposing the measure, many lawmakers were not willing to take the political risk of voting for it just five weeks before the election.

The vote also did nothing for Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his Democratic presidential rival, Barack Obama. Both stepped into the fray last week and boasted of exercising leadership in the negotiations. Not only did a majority of McCain's Republican colleagues vote against it, so did all his fellow Arizona lawmakers. Obama was unable to sway many House liberals, including a majority of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Obviously we are very disappointed in this outcome, said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. Theres no question that the country is facing a difficult crisis that needs to be addressed.

Fratto said the president will be meeting with his economic advisers to discuss next steps.

The legislation the administration promoted would have allowed the government to buy bad mortgages and other questionable assets held by troubled banks and financial institutions. Getting those debts off their books should bolster those companies balance sheets, making them more inclined to lend and easing one of the biggest choke points in the credit crisis. If the plan worked, the thinking went, it would help lift a major weight off the national economy that is already sputtering.

The fear in the financial markets sent the Dow Jones industrials falling by over 700 points at one juncture. As the vote was shown on TV, stocks plunged, and investors fled to the safety of the credit markets, worrying that the financial system would keep sinking under the weight of failed mortgage debt.

Norton said the defeat was predictable, especially after the Senate failed to pass a stimulus package that she had sought for months and that was passed in the House on Friday.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson rushed forward to forestall a collapse of the financial and credit sectors, but Congress has not taken comparable action to fuel the economy where most Americans work, spend, and need money, Norton said in a statement. A stimulus that has to be spent stateside would have immediate effects on people and their pocketbooks, and therefore on their view of congressional action to save the top of the economy.

Norton, in an interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com last week, said the country needed ready-to-go transportation and infrastructure projects that are proven to have a ripple effect, creating jobs in many sectors of the economy and spurring spending.

Congress forgot the history of the 1930s that shows that the economy did not respond for several years after Roosevelt succeeded in calming the markets, only when the economy was stimulated sufficiently to put people back to work, Norton said. The American people, however, have not forgotten.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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