In normal times, there would be defensible reasons to reject the revised economic bailout bill passed by the Senate and up for a House vote today. It's expensive. It's loaded with special interest tax breaks. It should offer more direct help for struggling homeowners. But this is a crisis that is touching every American and sending tremors through the world economy. House members must look beyond their pet issues and rise to the occasion.
Sen. Mel Martinez did that Wednesday night. The Florida Republican voted for the rescue plan even though he likely faces a tough re-election campaign in two years, concluding there is no time to wait for the perfect piece of legislation. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson fell into that trap, voting against it and arguing that Wall Street executives would benefit while too many homeowners would still suffer. The wording of the limits on golden parachutes is a side issue compared to the problems facing Floridians who cannot get car loans, sell their homes, manage their businesses or have confidence that their retirement savings are safe.
Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa has a similarly pinched view. She was the only Florida Democrat who voted against the bailout plan the House narrowly rejected Monday, triggering the greatest one-day drop ever in the Dow. Like Nelson, she is arguing around the edges and playing it safe when the moment calls for broader vision. She cannot square her opposition to the plan with her praise for the leadership of Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee who voted for the legislation and made an eloquent argument for why it is needed immediately.
The guts of the legislation, the $700-billion economic rescue plan, are not perfect. But it is substantially improved from the blank check the Bush administration sought a week ago. The public money to buy bad mortgage-related securities and other troubled investments would be released in stages. Taxpayers would share in any profits if the values return. There are oversight panels and protections against publicly financed golden parachutes for Wall Street executives. It is bitter but necessary medicine for taxpayers to swallow to try to stave off an economic calamity that is rapidly spreading.
Senate negotiators loaded up the bill with another $100-billion in programs and tax breaks to win more support. Raising the limit on federally insured bank deposits to $250,000, from the current $100,000, won some votes. Other provisions, including the patch to protect middle class taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax, already should have been approved in separate legislation. A laundry list of special interest tax breaks do not belong in this bill, either. But this is not the time to resume arguing over their individual merits.
The better option would have been to pass the more focused bailout bill the House rejected. Unfortunately, Castor and Tampa Bay Republican Reps. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores, Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville opposed it. Now they face a vote on a bill filled with extraneous tax breaks passed by a strong bipartisan Senate vote and backed by President Bush and both presidential candidates.
If Tampa Bay's members of Congress do not vote for this and it fails, they will have to answer to Floridians whose households and businesses will be at further risk from a crisis that must be resolved.