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(photo credit: AP)
Rejected once amid public fury about bailing out reckless financiers, a $700 billion rescue package is getting a second chance in the US House of Representatives as voters anxiously ponder an economic meltdown that could wipe out their ability to borrow, plunder their savings and put them out of work.
Republicans and Democrats were jumping aboard the bailout as the House sped toward a make-or-break vote - a much-anticipated do-over after the plan met with a stunning defeat Monday, triggering a historic stock market plunge.
It was still unclear, though, whether leaders would have the dozen or so supporters needed to pass the measure.
The plan lets the government spend billions of dollars to buy bad mortgage-related securities and other devalued assets from troubled financial institutions. If it works, advocates say, that would allow frozen credit to begin flowing again and prevent a serious recession.
Black lawmakers said personal calls from Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama helped switch them from "no" to "yes," as Republicans and Democrats alike said appeals from credit-starved small businessmen and the Senate's addition of $110 billion in tax breaks and other sweeteners had persuaded them to drop their opposition.
"I hate it," but "inaction to me is a greater danger to our country than this bill," said Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee, one of the 133 House Republicans who joined 95 Democrats in rejecting the measure Monday, sending the stock market plummeting.
Others said they were agonizing as they decided whether to change course and back the largest government intervention in markets since the Great Depression. "I'm trying desperately to get to 'yes,"' said Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat from New Hampshire.
Obama and his Republican rival, John McCain, phoned reluctant lawmakers for their help.
Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, told a closed-door meeting of House Democrats that he would support the bill after speaking with Obama about it.
Congressional leaders worked over wayward colleagues wherever they could find them.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, said Thursday there was a "good prospect" of approving the measure but stopped short of predicting passage - or even promising a vote.
"I'm going to be pretty confident that we have sufficient votes to pass this before we put it on the floor," Hoyer said.
Lawmakers were expecting to use at least some of 90 minutes scheduled for debate in choreographed question-and-answer sessions known as "colloquies," in which lawmakers ask for assurances about what the legislation will or won't do. That could make it easier for people switching their votes to explain why they did so.
The top Republican vote-counter, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, predicted the measure would be approved.
President George W. Bush said "a lot of people are watching" the House and was calling dozens of lawmakers searching for support for the rescue, a spokesman said.
Slowly but surely, converts were coming forward.
Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Florida, said she was switching her "no" vote to a "yes" after the Senate added some $110 million in tax breaks and other sweeteners before approving the measure Wednesday night.
"Monday what we had was a bailout for Wall Street firms and not much relief for taxpayers and hard-hit families," Ros-Lehtinen told The Associated Press. "Now we have an economic rescue package."
Republican Rep. Jim Ramstad, of Minnesota, also switched to "yes," partly because the Senate attached the bailout to legislation he spearheaded to give people with mental illnesses better health insurance coverage.
Rep. Gresham Barrett, a South Carolina Republican, also said he'd back it.
Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, of Missouri, was switching, too, said spokesman Danny Rotert, declaring, "America feels differently today than it did on Monday about this bill."
And Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, of Nevada, said she would back the bill after business leaders in her Las Vegas-area district made it clear how much it was needed. She said, "There isn't a segment of the population that hasn't been slammed and is not asking for some relief."
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said he was on the verge of voting "yes," based on conversations with Obama. "I've got a man who I'm hoping will be president who's saying that's he's going to do the very things that I want done," he said. "It makes me feel a lot better."
Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush, of Illinois, also said Obama was asking him to reconsider his vote. "I'm seriously listening," Rush said.
The same tax breaks that helped satisfy some Republican critics angered conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats who are concerned about swelling the deficit. Still, Hoyer predicted the number of Democratic defectors "is going to be minimal."
The Senate breathed new life into the measure Wednesday after the stinging House defeat, voting 74-25 to approve the bailout, with additions designed to appeal to key constituencies.
In efforts to appease Republican opponents, it included raising, from $100,000 to $250,000, the limit on federal deposit insurance.
The bill also extends several tax breaks popular with businesses, provisions that are favorites for most Republicans. It would keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting 20 million middle-income Americans, which appeals to lawmakers in both parties. And it would provide $8 billion in tax relief for those hit by natural disasters in the Midwest, Texas and Louisiana.
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