- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

In a vote without impact but heavy on symbolism, the House on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to deny the Obama administration the remaining $350 billion under the Wall Street bailout package.

“Simply put, my constituents don’t believe their money has been well spent, and neither do I,” said Rep. Judy Biggert, Illinois Republican.

The Senate last week rendered the House action moot by defeating an identical resolution. Under the bailout law passed in October, the Treasury Department can gain access to the second half of the $700 billion bailout kitty unless both chambers expressly forbid it.

But the 270-155 House vote reflected the political unpopularity of the bailout effort and the deep unhappiness of many lawmakers with how the first half of the money had been spent. Just four of 175 House Republicans voted to give the new administration the funds, joining 151 Democrats. Ninety-nine members of President Obama’s own party voted to block the $350 billion release.

Lawmakers of both parties complained that the Treasury’s “Troubled Asset Relief Program,” or TARP, had been designed poorly and implemented inconsistently, with little accountability from the banks and financial firms who were given taxpayer money. The bailout vote came a day after the House passed a separate bill to attach new conditions to the remaining TARP money, including stricter reporting standards and at least $40 billion devoted to helping homeowners facing foreclosure.

The Senate has not begun consideration of its own TARP bill and is considered unlikely to take up the House bill.

Thursday’s vote showed the erosion in support for the rescue package just since October. The House struggled to pass the original $700 billion bailout bill last fall, first rejecting the plan and then reversing itself five days later.

Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, unsuccessfully appealed to the House not to block the funds, even in a symbolic vote. But he said banks and other firms benefiting from the bailout should take note of the popular anger over the program to date.

Mr. Frank said he believed the new Obama administration shared many of the concerns expressed about the effectiveness of the first $350 billion and would adopt many of the changes recommended in the House bill.

“The Obama administration should not be denied the right to use these funds because the Bush administration misused them,” Mr. Frank argued.