New York Times: "95 percent opposed" to Wall Street bailout
September 25, 2008
Lawmakers’ Constituents Make Their Bailout Views Loud and Clear
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
New York Times
WASHINGTON — Americans’ anger is in full bloom, jumping off the screen in capital letters and exclamation points, in the e-mail in-boxes of elected representatives in the nation’s capital.
“I am hoping Congress can find the backbone to stand on their feet and not their knees before BIG BUSINESS,” one correspondent wrote to Representative Jim McDermott of Washington.
“I’d rather leave a better world to my children — NOT A BANKRUPT NATION. Whew! Pardon my shouting,” wrote another.
Mr. McDermott is a liberal Democrat, but his e-mail messages look a lot like the ones that Representative Candice S. Miller, a conservative Republican from Michigan, is receiving. “NO BAILOUT, I am a registered republican,” one constituent wrote. “I will vote and campaign hard against you if we have to subsidize the very people that have sold out MY COUNTRY.”
The backlash, in phone calls as well as e-mail messages, is putting lawmakers in a quandary as they weigh what many regard as the most consequential decision of their careers: whether to agree to President Bush’s request to spend an estimated $700 billion in taxpayer money to rescue the financial services system.
Around the country, Republican and Democratic voters are rising up in outright opposition to the White House plan or, at the very least, to express concern that it is being pushed through Congress in haste.
Lawmakers, in turn, are agonizing over what to do. Mrs. Miller said she had been “trying to be very deliberative about it,” listening to administration officials like Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., consulting with bankers from her district and independent experts. She sounded torn Wednesday, saying she was looking for guidance from Republican leaders and hoping they would come together with their Democratic counterparts on a bipartisan plan.
“I would say it’s the most concerned I’ve been since I’ve been in Congress,” said the congresswoman, a former Michigan secretary of state who won her House seat in 2002. “I appreciate all of the input that I’m getting from my constituents, but I’m just not reacting to that — I can’t until I understand it better and feel comfortable with my vote. And I’m not sure how I’m going to be voting yet.”
Meanwhile, the complaints keep coming, and several Congressional offices agreed to share them with reporters, though only on condition that the senders’ names not be published, for privacy reasons.
Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, has received nearly 17,000 e-mail messages, nearly all opposed to the bailout, her office said. More than 2,000 constituents called Ms. Boxer’s California office on Tuesday alone; just 40 favored the bailout. Her Washington office received 918 calls. Just one supported the rescue plan.
Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, said he had been getting 2,000 e-mail messages and telephone calls a day, roughly 95 percent opposed. When Senator Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent who votes with Democrats, posted a petition on his Web site asking Mr. Paulson to require that taxpayers receive an equity stake in the bailed-out companies, more than 20,000 people signed.
“We certainly have never brought in 20,000 names in a day and a half,” Mr. Sanders said, sounding astonished. “For us, that’s off the wall.”
It is much the same on the Republican side. Aides to Senator Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican who has called the bailout plan “un-American,” said the senator had received more constituent reaction to the bailout plan than to any issue since the immigration debate.
Representative Ray LaHood, Republican of Illinois, said he had not seen such an outpouring since President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999.
Constituent communications, of course, are no shock to lawmakers, especially since the age of e-mail messages and automated “robo-calls” make it possible for voters to vent en masse. But members of Congress say reaction to the bailout does not appear orchestrated or coordinated, but rather individual expressions that come from the grass roots and run across the philosophical spectrum.
War opponents, for instance, are telling lawmakers that they are tired of an administration that, in Mr. McDermott’s words, has “cried wolf” and played “the fear card” too many times by leading the nation into war in Iraq to find nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and curbing civil rights in the name of pursuing terrorists.
“The last time that Congress hurriedly passed legislation that the administration presented as ‘urgent’ we got the Patriot Act, with its mix of necessary reforms and onerous civil rights abuses,” one of Senator Brown’s constituents wrote. “Do not fall into this trap again.”
Others, invoking the Bush administration’s efforts to expand executive authority, are irate over the idea that one person — Mr. Paulson, and then his successor — would control so much taxpayer money. “So many people have said to me, ‘This is a democracy; this isn’t a dictatorship,’ ” Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, said.
Fiscal conservatives, on the other hand, see the White House abandoning core principles, marching down a treacherous road toward government intervention in the markets. “We are turning into a socialist country,” one voter warned an aide to Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico. “Let the markets work.”
But in the end, from the right or the left, lawmakers say the message is the same: Slow down, catch your breath and do not make any rash decisions, no matter what the White House says.
“This is too serious a problem for the administration to expect us to just rubber-stamp a $700 billion proposal and rush to get out of town,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. “That’s something my constituents definitely won’t tolerate.”