Defying President Bush and the leaders of both parties, rank-and-file lawmakers in the House on Monday rejected a $700 billion economic rescue plan in a revolt that rocked the Capitol, sent markets plunging and left top lawmakers groping for a resolution.
The stunning defeat of the proposal on a 228-205 vote after marathon talks by senior Congressional and Bush administration officials lowered a fog of uncertainty over economies around the globe. Its authors had described the measure as essential to preventing widespread economic calamity.
The markets began to plummet even before the 15-minute voting period expired on the House floor. For 25 more minutes, uncertainty gripped the nation as television showed party leaders trying, and failing, to muster more support. Finally, Representative Ellen Tauscher, Democrat of California, pounded the gavel and it was done.
In the end, only 65 Republicans — just one-third of those voting — backed the plan despite personal pleas from President Bush and encouragement from their presidential nominee, Senator John McCain. By contrast, 140 Democrats, or 60 percent, voted in favor, many after voicing grave misgivings. Their nominee, Senator Barack Obama, also backed the bill.
By the end of day, the Dow had fallen almost 778 points, or nearly 7 percent, to 10,365. Credit markets also remained distressed, with bank lending rates rising and investors fleeing to the safety of Treasury bills.
Among opponents of the rescue plan, some Republicans cited ideological objections to government intervention, and liberal Democrats said they were of no mind to race to aid Wall Street tycoons. Other critics complained about haste and secrecy in assembling the plan.
But lawmakers on both sides pointed to an outpouring of opposition from deeply hostile constituents just five weeks before every seat in the House was up for election as a fundamental reason that the measure was defeated. House members in potentially tough races and those seeking Senate seats fled from the plan in droves.
“People’s re-elections played into this to a much greater degree than I would have imagined,” said Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio, a former member of the Republican leadership who is retiring this year and voted for the plan.
Congressional leaders in both parties said they did not know how they would proceed but were examining options, including having the Senate, where there was more support for the bailout, advance a bill after the Jewish New Year on Tuesday. Congressional leaders said any doubt about the need for action should have been removed by the market fall.