House and Senate Democrats are balking at the prospect of facing voters angered by the Bush administration’s $700 billion Wall Street bailout package while congressional Republicans protect themselves by withholding their support.
The difficulty in getting agreement on the bailout package has made it less likely Congress will be able to meet President Bush’s demand to pass the bill this week.
“We have a Republican proposal they’ve given us and we now need some Republican votes to help us with this,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday after Democrats met in a private lunch and expressed concern about the GOP’s mounting opposition to the bailout.
Republican doubts about the plan are so widespread, Vice President Dick Cheney and a Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. met privately with GOP lawmakers in an attempt to convey “a sense of urgency” and “the importance of leadership” needed to facilitate fast passage of a bailout package, according to participants.
But House Republicans were no closer to backing the plan after emerging from a two-hour briefing Tuesday morning with Cheney.
According to those in the room, members told Cheney they were no longer willing to simply rubber-stamp Bush’s demands.
“Certainly there is a lot of skepticism and a lot of people in our conference feel the federal government ought not be doing this,” Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., said as he left the meeting. “Hardly anybody in that room has made up their minds on this.”
Later in the day, Republican senators met privately with Paulson.
Eight GOP senators are facing tough bids for re-election, which further complicates the administration’s efforts to get them to back the plan as a way to help the average taxpayer. Senators have reported receiving “thousands” of calls from constituents expressing opposition to the bailout proposal.
“To be able to translate this for a person on the street in America who perceives this in a very different way is a very heavy lift for us,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. said after the meeting.
Democrats and Treasury officials, meanwhile, continue to negotiate on the terms of the bailout package. Many Republicans Tuesday said they agree with a Democratic proposal to nix exorbitant executive pay packages, but they oppose the language that would allow judges to reset mortgage terms in bankruptcy court.
Some Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, will not commit to voting for the bill if it is loaded up with additional Democratic provisions, such as one that would help homeowners facing foreclosure.
Democrats, for their part, settled in for the coming battle.
“I think it’s important that we get it right, not get it done fast,” Reid said.