Calling the $700-billion financial bailout "extortion," Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville bucked her party leadership and joined dozens of other rank-and-file Republicans on Monday to reject the much-hyped rescue plan.
"Make no mistake, a vote for this bailout is a vote to ratify business as usual in Washington," Brown-Waite said from the House floor moments before the vote. "The compromise was crafted — including some of the same people who brought us this mess — except this time we have a gun to our head.
"This isn't legislation. This is extortion."
The plan — which would have given sweeping authority to the Treasury secretary to buy bad debt from ailing financial institutions — lost 228-205.
The defeat prompted the Dow Jones Industrial Average to plummet 777 points, or 7 percent, the largest single-day point drop in history.
In a brief interview after the vote, Brown-Waite blamed the current economic crisis on "a lack of enforcement of existing regulation" and specifically singled out top Bush administration officials.
She voted against the bill, she said, because it took the wrong approach by increasing the national debt ceiling to $11.3-trillion from $10-trillion and allowing the treasury to buy troubled U.S. assets from foreign banks.
Citing recent federally assisted bank mergers, such as Citigroup's acquisition of Wachovia, Brown-Waite said she wanted the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to play a greater role.
"There is a system in place to resolve banking problems," she said.
Another solution is to get rid of the capital gains tax on profits, she suggested.
Brown-Waite could not be reached later in the day to comment on the financial market's sharp decline, but a spokesman said the drop didn't change her thinking.
"It's not the cataclysmic end of the world scenario" that some predicted, Charlie Keller said.
The high-stakes vote came on the eve of an election, and members of Congress couldn't help but keep one eye looking toward November.
With her vote, Brown-Waite stuck with the prevailing wind of her constituents' wishes, as measured by calls to her office. Keller said hundreds have called in the 11 days since the plan was first announced, with nearly all voicing opposition to the bailout.
Her political challenger in the Nov. 4 election, in a rare moment of agreement, took a similar stance on the bailout proposal.
Democrat John Russell of Dade City said he opposed the plan because there were too many unanswered questions.
"There is a question as to whether it will be effective," he said. "People want to see their neighbors helped, not these clowns on Wall Street."
Like Brown-Waite, Russell blamed lack of regulation, criticized the rushed nature of the legislation, and suggested foreign banks shouldn't get help.
Russell went further, though, by suggesting that bankruptcy judges should have the ability to renegotiate mortgage loans. He also wants to see criminal investigations of those at the center of the crisis. "No one is being held accountable for this," he said.
This talk, and the vote in Washington, is all politics in the mind of Charles Gordon, a Republican who lives in the Brookridge community. He supported the bailout because "it's worse to do nothing."
"I believe they have to take action," he said, noting the stock market's reaction. "Whether this is (the solution) or not, they have to do something."
John Frank can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6114.