Desperate to avoid another market-crushing defeat, leaders in the House of Representatives won key converts Thursday to the $700 billion financial industry bailout bill on the eve of a make-or-break second vote, after the Senate sent the legislation back with its approval and some pork tucked in.
President Bush and congressional leaders lobbied furiously for the dozen or so supporters they'd need to reverse Monday's stunning defeat of the bill and approve a massive rescue plan designed to stave off national economic disaster.
Democratic and Republican leaders worked over wayward colleagues wherever they could find them.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, said there was a "good prospect" of approving the measure but stopped short of predicting passage-or even promising a vote. Nonetheless, the vote was expected on Friday.
"I'm going to be pretty confident that we have sufficient votes to pass this before we put it on the floor," Hoyer said.
The top Republican vote-counter, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, had no problem predicting the measure would be approved.
At least four representatives announced they would change their votes to yes: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.). For some of them, the changes to the legislation since Monday benefit their districts specifically.
Meanwhile, a coalition of representatives cried foul on pork the Senate rolled into the bill along with other "sweeteners," including $108 billion in tax breaks. While tax relief, disaster relief for the Midwest, and funding for rural education found their way into the bill, other less than vital measure did, too, like tax breaks for imported rum producers and manufacturers of wooden arrows for children. To a degree the pork targeted members who would otherwise vote "no."
"We didn't appreciate that this bill became Christmas in October," said Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), who presented an amendment to the legislation to cut pork and appropriate $250 billion of the $700 billion for the time being. The amendment's supporters say that the Treasury will not be spending more than that amount immediately for the next few months, so Congress should wait to appropriate the entire amount.
"What outrages me now is that they couldn't just leave the bill alone," said Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), who originally voted for the bailout legislation.
Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who has worked closely with Rep. Barney Franks (D-Mass.) on the legislation and voted for it, believed that the vast majority of the House would support the amendment.
But Franks said it would kill the effectiveness of the bill because it would require that the legislation be returned to the Senate, putting off aid and shaking up the markets.
"We can't do this quickly," he said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.) said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told her it would take "a long time" for the Senate to pass an amended House version.
"I don't think that any changes here will do what we need to do, which is right now to send a message of confidence to the markets that Congress will act," she said.
The Rules Committee on Thursday evening rejected the amendment, so the House must pass or shut down the bill exactly as the Senate crafted it.
High unemployment claims released Thursday-along with a report that orders to U.S. factories plunged by the largest amount in nearly two years as credit strains cramped manufacturers-press the urgency of passing some kind of legislation. Monday's 770-point drop in the Dow Jones industrials is still fresh on representatives' memory, as well.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.