After two weeks of anguishing debate, Congress has passed and President Bush signed a massive plan to save the financial industry and the economy at large from an unthinkable free fall. Now, the world holds its breath, seeing if it will work.
Passage of the $700 billion financial rescue package came after Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson at a meeting last month shocked congressional leaders into action by warning of pending economic collapse without immediate congressional intervention.
Paulson said after the climactic House vote Friday that he already had staff working out details and was lining up advisers from outside the government to get the money flowing.
The immediate response to the 263-171 vote was not promising. Wall Street, which plunged a record 778 points after the House initially rejected the bill last Monday, fell 157 points on Friday as more economic bad news, such as a jump in job losses, outweighed news that Congress was finally coming to the rescue.
“We know that if we do nothing this crisis is likely to worsen and put us in a slump the likes of which most of us have never seen,” said House Republican leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who worked with House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders in a rare bipartisan response to what both parties saw as a dire threat to the nation’s economic well-being.
“We are addressing the real pain felt by Mr. and Mrs. Jones on Main Street,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “They are why we must pass this legislation today.”