House Girds for Second Try on Financial Rescue

WASHINGTON - Now for the big do-over. House members get another chance to vote on a bill that many would like to avoid: a massive financial rescue plan that has infuriated millions of voters but is described by President Bush and congressional leaders as vital to keeping the economy from sliding into a deep recession.

This time, it comes back to the House loaded with billions of dollars worth of tax cuts and other sweeteners. They are meant to attract at least a dozen House members who voted against the measure Monday, when it failed, 228-205, triggering a record drop in the stock market.

Senators added the new items in a 74-25 vote late Wednesday, sending the beefed-up package back to the House for a showdown vote expected Friday. House leaders planned to spend Thursday pressing rank-and-file members for the dozen converts they need.

The bailout package was never in danger in the Senate. Senators instead played catalysts for the House, adding tax provisions popular with the left and right in a bid that House leaders hope — but cannot guarantee — will persuade enough of the House rank-and-file to switch from "nay" to "aye" on a highly contentious bill a month before Election Day.

They were especially targeting the 133 House Republicans who voted against the package.

"We've sent a clear message to Americans all over that we will not let this economy fail," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "This is not a piece of legislation for lower Manhattan. This is legislation for all America."

The rescue package would let the government spend billions of dollars to buy bad mortgage-related securities and other devalued assets held by troubled financial institutions. If successful, advocates say, that would allow frozen credit to begin flowing again and prevent a serious recession.

To some degree, at least, House GOP opposition appeared to be easing as the Senate added $100 billion in tax breaks for businesses and the middle class, plus a provision to raise, from $100,000 to $250,000, the cap on federal deposit insurance.

House Republicans also welcomed a decision Tuesday by the Securities and Exchange Commission to ease rules that force companies to devalue assets on their balance sheets to reflect the price they can get on the market.

There were worries, though, that the tax breaks might cause some conservative-leaning Democrats who voted for the rescue Monday to abandon it because the revised version would swell the federal deficit.

"I'm concerned about that," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic leader.

The Senate-backed package extends several tax breaks popular with businesses. It would keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting 20 million middle-income Americans. And it would provide $8 billion in tax relief for those hit by natural disasters in the Midwest, Texas and Louisiana.

Leaders in both parties, as well as private economic chiefs almost everywhere, said Congress must quickly approve some version of the bailout measure to start loans flowing and stave off a potential national economic disaster.

But critics on the right and left assailed the rescue plan, which has been panned by their constituents as a giveaway for Wall Street with little obvious benefit for ordinary Americans.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a leading conservative, said the step was "leading us into the pit of socialism."

But proponents argued that the financial sector's woes already were being felt by ordinary people in the form of unaffordable credit and underperforming retirement savings. Still, they said voters were unlikely to reward those who vote for the measure.

"There will be no balloons or bunting or parades" when the rescue becomes law, said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., the Senate Banking Committee chairman.

Tax cuts new and old are favorites for most House Republicans. Help for rural schools was aimed mainly at lawmakers in the West, while disaster aid was a top priority for lawmakers from across the Midwest and South.

Another addition, to extend the deductibility of state and local taxes for people in states without income taxes, helps Florida and Texas, among others.

Increasing the deposit insurance cap was a bid to reassure individuals and small businesses that their money would be safe in the event their banks collapsed. It was particularly geared toward small banks that fear customers will pull their money and park it in larger institutions seen as less likely to fold.

The Senate vote lacked the drama of Monday's House vote, but it had its celebrity moments. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and his GOP rival, John McCain, came off the campaign trail to vote for the package, thrilling tourists who glimpsed them in the Capitol's corridors and drawing hordes of reporters and photographers.


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