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House clears bailout on second try

The House voted 263-171 in favor of a $700 billion financial rescue plan. All four Arkansas congressmen voted for the measure.

The package passed the Senate on Wednesday. It now goes to the president, who is expected to sign it.

The Arkansas delegation in the House and Senate supported it even though public feedback that was decidedly against using taxpayer money to prop up imperiled financial institutions. Lawmakers said they backed the bill because it was the best way to stave off an economic crisis.

It was the House’s second attempt to pass the controversial bailout bill, which failed Monday despite the Arkansans’ support for it.

Opponents decried the legislation as improper government intervention in a crisis caused by Wall Street. Other foes demanded more help for homeowners caught up in the subprime mortgage mess.

Arkansas’ delegation is Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, both Democrats, and Reps. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, John Boozman, R-Rogers, Mike Ross, D-Prescott, and Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock.

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Lincoln leans toward support of bailout

With a Senate vote on the $700 billion financial bailout bill just a few hours away, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., signaled Wednesday she would support the measure.

Lincoln said she still wanted to talk to a few more of her colleagues about the bill intended to stabilize the nation’s imperiled economy, but that: “I definitely think that doing nothing is not an option.”

The House rejected its bailout effort Monday, sending the stock market into a tailspin.

The Senate added to its version an extension of popular tax breaks on businesses in a move designed to lure support from House Republicans. A business research and development tax credit, incentives for renewable energy and a fix to protect more than 20 million Americans from the alternative minimum tax (AMT) is in the Senate bill.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House would take up the measure (if approved by the Senate) Friday, only if leaders knew they had the votes to pass it.

Lincoln said her constituents have made it clear Congress needs to do something, even if the bill may appear unsavory.

The measure is much improved over an initial Bush administration proposal that didn’t set limits on executive compensation and pledged a full $700 billion automatically. Lincoln said the Senate bill applies more accontability and transparency into how the government adminsters the bailout plan.

“We’re going to try to take a two-pronged approach here, which is making money available in installments,” she said. “The first, being $250 billion, then an extra $100 billion would be available for the executive branch to use if necessary.”

Lincoln called the tax breaks a “parallel approach” to the rescue plan for fixing the economy.

“Business and industry are the engine of the economy,” she said. “We have to make sure the jobs they have, they keep, and the jobs they want to give, they can give.”

While the tax package may entice House Republicans, it may put off a number of fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Blue Dogs oppose tax breaks that aren’t offset in the federal budget by additional revenue.

The incentives are partially offset with tax hikes for oil companies and closure of a corporate tax loophole. Still, about $25 billion would be added to the budget deficit under the proposal, Lincoln said.

“I try to be fiscally responsible, too, that’s important,” she said. “But we’re looking at a circumstance that needs a timely response.”

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House dumps bailout

The House just rejected a Bush adminstration-backed plan to shore up the nation’s financial institutions by buying up bad debts.

The vote was 228 to 205.

Reps. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, John Boozman, R-Rogers, Mike Ross, D-Prescott, and Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, all voted for the bill.

The stock market fell sharply in response to the House vote.

The White House and congressional leaders pushed the plan as a “necessary evil” to protect the economy from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Opponents said the government shouldn’t be responsible for saving Wall Street firms that caused the crisis in the first place. Other bailout foes demanded more help for American homeowners threatened with foreclosure.

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Eliminating the middle man

Five callers to Sen. Mark Pryor’s Washington office got quite the surprise this afternoon when Pryor answered the phone himself.

Constituents rarely have such access to U.S. senators, who are usually shielded from public phone calls by an army of gatekeepers. Aides almost always field phone calls to an office’s main line.

Pryor’s spokeswoman, Lisa Ackerman, said the state’s junior senator wanted to answer his own phone to get a feel for what constituents think about the proposed government bailout of imperiled financial institutions.

They were all uncomfortable with the proposal, she said.

“Some wanted him to do what’s best for the country. Others were just all-out opposed to it,” Ackerman said.

She said Pryor didn’t identify himself as the senator until after callers voiced their concerns. He answered the phone with, “Sen. Pryor’s office,” Ackerman said.

The calls came from all three of the state’s area codes, she added.

Now if Pryor ever loses his Senate seat, he might qualify for a job at a call center.

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Lincoln: McCain move ‘distracting’

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., was critical Thursday of John McCain’s decision to suspend his presidential campaign to return to the Senate as Congress considers a massive bailout of financial institutions:

“I think he’s distracting things (with) the idea he’s got to stop what he’s doing and come back and rescue the Congress,” Lincoln said during a conference call with reporters.

McCain is a Republican senator from Arizona.

Lincoln said members of Congress have been working for nearly a week to find a solution to the nation’s economic crisis. The Bush administration’s $700 billion bailout proposal was met with tepid support on Capitol Hill.

“There’s a lot of us that have been working on this over the past five to six days,” she said. “We certainly hope Sen. McCain will come back and vote on it and participate if he wants. We’re doing that now. I don’t think he needs to halt this campaign.”

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