WASHINGTON-The Senate voted to approve the sweetened economic rescue package Wednesday night in a 74-25 vote, sending the $700 billion legislation to the House of Representatives. House Democratic leaders said they believed the bill will pass in its new form.
"We rejected the easy and chose the right," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Wednesday night.
Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Joe Biden (D-Del.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.) left the campaign trail to cast their votes in favor of the bill, voicing "ayes" with 71 other senators. Nine Democrats voted no, as did 15 Republicans and one Independent. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was the only senator not present, for health reasons. For one or two of the candidates, it may be their last vote in the Senate.
One member who cast his final vote-in the affirmative-was Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M), who retires this year. Afterward he said it may have been one of his most significant votes for its potential impact.
"Based on what we are trying to fix, there could hardly be a harder vote for a democracy," he said.
The chamber made the vote more palatable both to members and their constituents by adding $100 billion in tax breaks for the average American, denouncing the "blank check" proposal Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson initially presented.
The bill add-ons, pushing the initial three-page legislation to 450 pages, include tax-credit extensions, protection for taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax, and a higher Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation limit for bank deposits-an effort to reach out to "Main Street."
"This is not for lower Manhattan. ... This is for people to keep their jobs, to buy a car," said Reid Wednesday morning.
"I think what members of Congress and senators are seeing in recent days is more news in terms of how the credit squeeze is affecting everyday Americans," said Tony Fratto, deputy press secretary of the White House at a briefing Wednesday morning.
Fratto said the Bush administration was satisfied with the add-ons to the bill, despite urging members earlier not to attach extra legislation.
Paulson wasn't expecting his blank check request to go ahead unchallenged, one financial expert said.
"He's a deal maker. ... He knew it was an opening offer," said Alice Rivlin, former vice chair of the Federal Reserve, at a discussion at the Brookings Institute on Wednesday. "The Congress was outraged by the opening offer."
Some in the Senate were still outraged, even with the sweetened offer. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) spoke vehemently against the bill.
"It asks the American people to trust people who have consistently misled them," he said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) in denouncing the bill said it was the largest single expenditure "in the history of the republic."
But fallout from the House's vote-a stock market dive and the freezing of credit streams around the world-helped overwhelm dissenters, and the bill proponents hope that will spur some House members to change their vote to "yes" when the bill comes back to them.
Because of procedural rules, the House will not be able to vote on the legislation until Friday.
The House of Representative's website has been experiencing historic levels of traffic. When the rescue legislation was posted on the site Sunday, with representatives to vote on Monday, constituents swamped the site, causing it to crash. Traffic quadrupled, said Jeff Ventura, communications director for the Capitol Administration Officer, whose office manages the site. Ventura says the traffic is the highest the site has seen, but has no specific numbers yet.
"The closest was the 9/11 Commission report," said Ventura. "It didn't even come close."
Now the IT crew is working to install new hardware and software so servers will be back up and ready to handle any further flood of traffic.-E.B.