UPDATED, 5:53 p.m.:
The fate of the $700 billion Wall Street rescue bill hung in the balance Thursday, as President Bush and congressional leaders tried to cobble together a majority in favor of the package ahead of a showdown vote in the House of Representatives Friday.
But with even top House leaders saying they could not predict how the vote will go, a critical bloc of more than a dozen lawmakers who voted against the bailout measure Monday said they were prepared to switch if the initial pay-out under the plan was sharply limited and last-minute pork projects added by the Senate Wednesday night were stripped from the bill.
“We have a critical mass,” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, a moderate Ohio Republican who voted against the bill Monday, saying he had talked to 14 other members willing to switch if the amendment he authored was accepted.
“Our core group is sufficient to take care of the margin to pass this bill, if our amendment is ruled in order and passed,” he said. He declined to identify the other lawmakers he said were prepared to switch.
House Democratic leaders were highly reluctant to agree to any changes to the Senate version bill, fearing it might slow down the legislative process even more amid global market uncertainty.
The stock markets tumbled again Thursday, with the Dow Jones index losing 348 points, or 3.2 percent, while the broader Standard & Poor’s index of 500 stocks was off 46 points, or just over 4 percent.
Adding pressure on lawmakers to act, a new government report issued Thursday found that new orders at U.S. factories tumbled by an unexpectedly steep 4 percent in August, the sharpest decline since October 2006.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer both said they were determined to avoid a repeat of the embarrassment Monday, while insisting that inaction was not an option.
“I will be pretty confident we have enough votes before I put [the bill] on the floor,” Mr. Hoyer said.