Florida's senators split votes
Florida's senators split their vote Wednesday night on a $700 billion financial rescue plan for Wall Street that cleared the Senate and set the stage for a second vote in the House, possibly by the end of the week.
The Senate passed the measure, 74-25.
Republican Sen. Mel Martinez voted for the measure. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, breaking with party leaders, voted against it.
"This bill rewards the banks and leaves the little person with the short end of the stick, and that is not right," Nelson said. The Orlando Democrat said the plan fails to do enough to help homeowners facing foreclosure.
"This bill sends a message to Wall Street that if you play fast and loose in the name of short term profits, the government will actually make up for their losses," Nelson told his Senate colleagues on the floor hours shortly before the vote. "And the bill does very little to help individual homeowners."
Martinez, who took the podium just minutes later, acknowledged the bill was not perfect.
"But the times will not wait for tomorrow. The times will not wait for us to have a perfect bill," the Orlando Republican said. "We have no choice but to act, and we need to act now."
Martinez said he understands the anguish many have expressed over the rescue plan.
"I share their anger. But at the same time, we're here to solve problems and get things done," he said, stressing the need for Congress to address the underlying problems that led to the financial crisis poor regulation when it reconvenes in January.
The bill now heads to the House, where lawmakers from Florida who voted against the measure earlier this week doubted whether the modest changes in the package would be enough to win them over.
"When you peel away the layers, the Senate bill is still a massive $700 billion bailout," said Rep. Connie Mack IV, a Fort Myers Republican who plans to reject the bill a second time. "It still gives the federal government an unprecedented and inappropriate amount of power. And it still quashes the free market in the name of political expediency.
"The thrust of the rescue plan hasn't changed: giving banks and financial institutions a way to sell off some bad mortgage-related assets to the government so they can keep making loans to U.S. businesses.
The main change in the plan is increasing the amount of bank deposits that would be insured by the government from $100,000 to $250,000.
The rescue package also was combined with a mental health bill and a number of tax breaks the House and Senate had been considering separately. Those include tax breaks for natural disaster victims, renewable energy incentives, extended tax breaks for businesses, and alternative mini-mum tax relief to keep that tax from hitting an estimated 22 million taxpayers.The bill also includes a two-year renewal of a tax break that allows Floridians to write off part of their regional sales taxes on their federal forms.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., acknowledged that some House members "would rather we did this some other way. And we've tried other ways."
"I say to my friends in the House of Representatives, we've got to get this done," he said. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House would take up the bill Friday only if there is bipartisan support.
Rep. Tom Feeney, an Oviedo Republican who rejected the measure Monday, hasn't decided how he will vote next time because he still needs to review the bill's language, his spokeswoman Pepper Pennington said.
Feeney favors the increased bank insurance, calling it "a slight improvement" over the former bill, she said. "He's pleased with the additions, but at the end of the day, he still has to look at this and ask, Is this going to stimulate Central Florida banks and increase lending and credit?' " Pennington said.
"And unless the free market approach is taken, one that puts the burden of rescuing Wall Street on the private sector and not the taxpayers, the congressmen will (probably) vote against the bailout."
Brevard County's other Republican congressman, Rep. Dave Weldon of Indialantic, declined to say whether he has changed his mind on the package. On Monday, Weldon reluctantly voted for the plan, saying he feared what would happen to the financial markets if the plan failed.
His fears played out as the Dow Jones industrial average suffered a one-day record drop of 778 points, later recovering some of that loss. Weldon would not comment until he could review the Senate bill, said his spokesman, Derek Baker.