- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lawmakers’ resistance to a financial-rescue plan reflects their distrust of the Bush administration and a growing opposition from constituents across the political spectrum to the proposed $700 billion credit-industry bailout.

“Quite frankly, if I held a town-hall meeting and told my constituents ‘this is what we needed to do’ so they could get car loans and business loans, they’d laugh me out of the building,” said Rep. Baron P. Hill, Indiana Democrat, who received hundreds of calls from constituents opposed to the plan, with most saying they were outraged that small businesses and taxpayers were being called upon to bail out giant Wall Street firms.

Backed by President Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke have warned that unless the plan is approved immediately, financial ruin is almost sure to follow - possibly on a global scale.

But lawmakers of both parties say they are not eager to sign on, at least in part because neither they nor their constituents trust that the situation is as dire as the administration paints it.

For one of the Senate’s most conservative Republican senators, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, telephone calls from constituents about the rescue scheme proposed by the Republican administration were running 100-to-1 against the plan on Wednesday, DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said.

Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan, chairman of the 43-member Congressional Black Caucus, said members’ phones are jammed with constituent calls asking them to put the brakes on the rescue package and include measures to boost jobs, education and health care.

“They are calling. They are off the hook,” she said. “There is a lot of consternation right now. We know we have to do something, but we are not sure now what that is.”

Troubled by memories of the administration peddling misinformation about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and broken promises that past corporate bailouts would reap lasting market stability, lawmakers simply do not believe what the administration or Senate and House leaders are telling them.

The e-mails, telephone calls and letters from constituents showing considerable public distrust and skepticism are what, to the surprise of most observers, may make enactment of the bailout anything but a slam dunk.

In this environment of distrust, the fate of the plan could well depend on Mr. Bush’s ability to persuade the public about the advantages to them of the proposal - a task all the more challenging given the president’s low job-approval rating in the polls.

Nearly half - 44 percent - of voters oppose the taxpayer-financed bail out, a Rasmussen Reports survey released Wednesday showed.

That is up from the 37 percent who hated the plan a day earlier and after Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke spent the day testifying on Capitol Hill that a bailout is the only way to avoid an complete economic meltdown.

Just 25 percent supported the plan Wednesday, down from 28 percent a day earlier, and 35 percent were undecided, the survey showed.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, said his office received more than 1,000 e-mails from constituents opposed to the plan, and he collected more than 2,200 signatures in just two days on a petition that says middle-class taxpayers should not finance a Wall Street rescue.

Distrust of the Bush administration in the public and in Congress, Mr. Sanders said, is weighing down the bailout proposal.

“The difficulty is, millions of Americans perceive this administration to be the most incompetent and dishonest in American history,” he said. “Many members are bitter that they were sucked in to support the war in Iraq. … Given the lack of respect and credibility this administration has is making it that much more difficult.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, said her office has been flooded with calls from constituents who are skeptical or opposed to the rescue plan. “People see $700 billion, and of course they are just stunned about this,” she said.

But she said that Congress has a responsibility to “shape what’s being proposed and to assure that anything that is done has limitations, protects the small-business investors, families’ savings, and that there is an upside to the taxpayers.”

While she acknowledged serious concerns about the administration’s plan, she said she is hopeful Congress will craft a plan that meets the needs of Wall Street and ordinary Americans. “It isn’t that we can just walk away from it; we have to shape it, which is the responsibility of Congress to do,” she said.

Republicans privately worry that if they go on record voting for the administration plan, and Democrats withhold their votes, Democrats will run campaign ads tagging the Republicans as the running dogs of Wall Street moguls while the Democrats stood up for the put-upon denizens of Main Street.

Democrats have a similar worry that they will get pulled into voting for the bailout only to find that Republicans, citing free-market principles and protecting taxpayers, backed out at the last moment.

Mr. DeMint told Fox News on Wednesday that “one thing for sure” is that the current financial debacle “was caused by the government.”

“They broke it. I do not trust them to fix it at this point. I see this as a trillion dollar Band-Aid designed to get people past the next election, but it is not going to solve our problem.”

David R. Sands contributed to this report.

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