Most From Area Vote Yes; Newcomers Balk

By Steve Hendrix and Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

By the time the fierce and dramatic wrangling over the financial bailout reached a vote yesterday, most members of Congress who represent the Washington suburbs ended up heeding the pleas of party leaders to support the $700 billion bailout.

In Maryland and Virginia, two of the exceptions were the most junior members of the delegations, Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), who has been in Congress for less than four months, and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), who arrived on Capitol Hill in December.

"I'm more freshman than anyone," Edwards said shortly after casting one of 95 Democratic votes against the measure. The former community activist won a special election in June and is running for a full term in November. "But I heard constituents throughout my district overwhelmingly asking us to slow down and get this right. "

Edwards bucked her party even though her district is flanked by two Democratic leaders in the House, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who both called for passage of the bill. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D) and Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R) cast the only other Maryland votes against the measure. Cummings and Bartlett represent parts of Howard and Montgomery counties, respectively.

In Virginia, the vote's breakdown was easy to map. Representatives covering most of Northern Virginia and far southwestern Virginia voted for the bill. But members from much of central and southern Virginia, including Newport News Democrat Robert C. Scott, voted against the package, as did Wittman, whose district stretches south from southern Prince William County and part of Fauquier County.

Fissures were particularly apparent among Virginia Republicans, with members' tenures, ideologies and diverse constituencies all playing into the vote.

Tom Davis, the retiring GOP representative from Fairfax County, urged his colleagues to support what he conceded was a highly flawed bill.

"This is a difficult vote for all of us. Either we're promoting unprecedented federal interference in the marketplace or we're bailing out Wall Street millionaires and rewarding bad business decisions. And there's a grain of truth in all of this," Davis said from the House floor. But, he added, "if there's no credit, nothing else matters."

Wittman, while headed south on Interstate 95 yesterday for a speaking engagement, had time to consider what happens next.

"You make the decision, and that's the decision," he said. "What we heard from folks back in the district was overwhelmingly against this. They said, 'This is not the role of government.' . . . They viewed this as direct help to those on Wall Street who have made bad decisions."

Wittman said his office has received more than 2,000 calls on the bailout, more than 98 percent of them opposed, but said he is open to a revised bill.

Edwards, facing a momentous vote at the dawn of her congressional career and just before her first full-term election, said she stayed up reading the bill the entire night before the vote. Ultimately, she said, she voted no because the measure did not include enough explicit oversight of the financial sector or enough bankruptcy protection for homeowners.

Edwards said she had not been pressured by House leaders before the vote and was not chastised after it. According to Van Hollen, the newest member of the delegation would not face recriminations because the leadership had made it clear that all members should vote their conscience on the bailout proposal. He and other Democrats had harsher words for the 133 Republicans who voted against the bill.

"What happened was that the Republican side decided not to follow through on its commitments" to provide broad bipartisan support for the bill, he said.

Rob Collins, chief of staff for Rep. Eric Cantor, whose district includes the Richmond area and who is a member of the House GOP leadership, blamed Democrats for failing to craft a compromise that could corral the necessary votes. Cantor had been leaning against the bill but voted for it because of urgent calls from President Bush and economic experts, Collins said.

"I think Virginians are skeptical. Something needs to be done, but they also don't like a $700 billion price tag," Collins said.

Rep. James P. Moran, who voted yes, said Republicans balked at taking the responsible course.

"They were more influenced by talk radio than they were by the White House," said Moran (D), who represents Northern Virginia. "This was a Republican bill we were forced to vote for because the economy was on a precipice."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company