Bailout revival sought; better deposit safety seen
(AP) - Congressional leaders, President Bush and thetwo rivals to succeed him rummaged through ideas new and oldTuesday, desperately seeking to change a dozen House members' votesand pass a multibillion-dollar economic rescue plan. At the top ofthe list: Raise confidence in the banking system by increasing thegovernment's insurance.
Watch the president's comments Rep. Peter King weighs in on financial crisis
In addition, there was talk of making it easier for financialinstitutions to hold questionable long-term assets, an ideaembraced by some of the House Republicans who slapped down thebailout bill and sent stocks tumbling on Monday. Wall Streetregained hope on Tuesday, and the Dow Jones industrials rose 485points, making up a good bit of the ground lost in the 778-pointplunge.
Congressional leaders hope the changes under discussion - or afew others that could be in the mix - will be enough to persuade asfew as six House Republicans and six Democrats to undo Monday'sstunning vote that rejected a proposed $700 billion rescue.
With the Capitol largely quiet because of the Jewish new year,no overall plan appeared to jell just yet.
Some lawmakers suggested the Senate might approve its ownversion on Wednesday, presumably with a few changes to the failedHouse bill, and then give the House a new crack at the legislationbefore the week is out.
Still, the House is where the problems are, and leaders therewere scrounging for ideas that might appeal to a few of the 133Republicans and 95 Democrats who rejected the proposal on Monday.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.,told reporters, "I'm told a number of people who voted 'no'yesterday are having serious second thoughts about it." He added,however, "There's no game plan that's been decided."
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said it wastime for all lawmakers to "act like grown-ups, if you will, andget this done for all of the people." He predicted a bill wouldpass this week, although the House, not the Senate, is the focus ofthe dispute.
The idea drawing the biggest support was to raise the federaldeposit insurance limit, now $100,000 per account, to $250,000.Several officials, including presidential nominees John McCain andBarack Obama, endorsed the change.
So did the agency that runs the program.
Within hours of the candidates' separate statements, FederalDeposit Insurance Corp. chairman Sheila Bair asked Congress fortemporary authority to raise the limit by an unspecified amount.That could help ease a crisis of confidence in the banking system,Bair said.
She said the overwhelming majority of banks remain sound but anincrease in the cap would help ease a crisis of confidence in thebanking system as well as encourage banks to begin more lending.
Monday's House vote was a stinging setback to leaders of bothparties and to Bush. The administration's proposal, still the heartof the legislation under consideration, would allow the governmentto buy bad mortgages and other deficient assets held by troubledfinancial institutions. If successful, advocates of the planbelieve, that would help lift a major weight off the alreadysputtering national economy.
But the proposal ignited furious responses from thousands ofAmericans, who flooded congressional telephones. The final Housevote, 228-205 against the plan. Some lawmakers reported a shift inconstituent calls pouring into their offices Tuesday after therecord stock market decline.
Bush renewed his efforts, speaking with McCain and Obama andmaking another statement from the White House. "Congress mustact," he declared.
Though stock prices rose, more attention was on credit markets.A key rate that banks charge each other shot higher, furtherevidence of a tightening of credit availability.
Bush was talking about everyday Americans on Tuesday, not banksor other financial institutions. And no supporters were using theword "bailout."
The president noted that the maximum $700 billion in theproposed bailout was dwarfed by the $1 trillion in lost wealth thatresulted from Monday's stock market decline.
"The dramatic drop in the stock market that we saw yesterdaywill have a direct impact on retirement accounts, pension funds andpersonal savings of millions of our citizens," Bush said. "And ifour nation continues on this course, the economic damage will bepainful and lasting."
"I recognize this is a difficult vote for members ofCongress," Bush said. "But the reality is we are in an urgentsituation and the consequences will grow worse each day if we donot act."
Republicans said the FDIC proposal might attract someconservatives who want to help small business owners and avert runson banks by customers fearful of losing their savings.
Another possible change to the bill would modify "mark tomarket" accounting rules. Such rules require banks and otherfinancial institutions to adjust the value of their assets toreflect current market prices, even if they plan to hold the assetsfor years.
Some House Republicans say current rules forced banks to reporthuge paper losses on mortgage-backed securities, which might havebeen avoided.
Liberal Democrats who opposed the bill are suggesting otherchanges. Their ideas include banning some forms of "shortselling," in which investors bet that a stock's value will drop.Republicans showed little interest.
The rescue package was Topic A on the presidential campaigntrail.
"The first thing I would do is say, 'Let's not call it abailout. Let's call it a rescue,"' McCain told CNN. He said,"Americans are frightened right now" and political leaders mustgive them an immediate solution and a longer-term approach to theproblem.
Obama issued a statement saying that significantly increasingfederal deposit insurance would help small businesses and make theU.S. banking system more secure as well as restore publicconfidence.
The bill's defeat in the House came despite furious personallobbying by Bush and support from House leaders of both parties.But ideological groups on the left and the right organized againstit. Even pressure in favor of the bill from some of the biggestspecial interests in Washington, including the U.S. Chamber ofCommerce and the National Association of Realtors, could not swayenough votes.