Economic rescue bill remains in limbo

Congressional leaders predict legislation will pass, as Bush applies pressure.

The next step in legislative efforts to bolster the economy remained unclear on Tuesday, with congressional leaders expressing optimism that the $700 billion bailout could be rescued. But some rank-and-file lawmakers are complaining they were being kept in the dark.

As the stock market made up some of the ground it lost after Monday's vote failed, staff-level talks continued among representatives of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

President Bush kept up the pressure for a deal, warning of "painful and lasting" economic damage if lawmakers do not act quickly. "The consequences will grow worse each day if we do not act," Bush said.

Senate leaders from both parties predicted a rescue plan would be approved by the end of the week. "We will get the job done," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, echoing similar comments by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "We will get it done this week and hopefully that will convince the American people that Congress can rise to the occasion, act like grownups, if you will, and get the job done for all of our people."

In a letter to Bush, Pelosi and Reid said Congress "will pass a responsible bill in the very near future." But specifics were hard to come by. "It's a complete information-free zone," said the chief of staff to one moderate House Democrat.

Sources on K Street and Capitol Hill said they believed a second vote is possible on a slightly modified version of the bill when the House returns Thursday. "Not only will it get done, the bill that is going to pass is going to look a hell of a lot like the one that just failed," predicted the chief of staff to one conservative Republican who did not back the bill. He compared the expected second vote to July's passage of revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act after a year of negotiations, only coming more quickly.

Some lawmakers who voted against the package reported their offices were receiving many more calls in favor of the rescue plan than they had received before the vote. Senate Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd, an ardent backer of the plan, said he was encouraged by talks with House and Senate colleagues who might be ready to change their votes. "I'm told a number of people who voted 'no' yesterday are having serious second thoughts," Dodd said without naming names.

Some of that pressure was coming from grassroots efforts by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable that targeted opponents of the plan. "My feeling is members of Congress want to hear from their constituents," said Jay Timmons, NAM's executive vice president. "So we're encouraging our members to call and ask their employees to call and make sure Congress understands exactly what it means to real people and the real world."

NAM is targeting about 40 lawmakers who opposed the bill Monday and have a large number of manufacturers in their districts. BRT President John Castellani said 90 CEOs participated in a conference call this morning to coordinate their lobbying plan. "Maybe we just didn't do a good enough job in explaining as a business community that the circumstances require dramatic action."

Ben Schneider, Darren Goode and Terry Kivlan contributed to this report.