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Stock Market Plunges

House Rejects Bailout Bill; Wall Street Shudders

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi talks to reporters

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi talks to reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill Monday with fellow Democrats. From left: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, Rahm Emanuel and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank.

In a shocking defeat that rocked Wall Street, the House of Representatives voted down a $700 billion plan aimed at rescuing banks and unfreezing the world’s credit markets.

The news of the 228-205 defeat sent the stock market reeling. The Dow Jones industrial average recorded its biggest closing point drop in history, closing down 777.68 points — or nearly 7 percent — to 10,365.45.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson spoke to reporters at the White House after a discussion with President Bush aimed at mapping out the way forward. He said he would keep working to get a bill. “We need to work as quickly as possible,” Paulson said. “We need to get something done. We need to put something back together that works.”

Market analysts said Paulson and the Bush administration more generally were at least partially to blame for stirring up the sturm und drang that ended with Monday’s stock market plunge.

The Bush economic team has been saying for weeks that the financial world as we know it would end if a rescue plan was not put in place in short order. So when the bill failed in the House, investors naturally ran for the closest exits. For all his doom-casting after the vote, Paulson did inject a faint note of confidence. He said the banking system so far “has been holding up very well, considering all of the pressures.”

Trying Again

President Bush, with mere months left in office, had staked what little political capital he has left on passage of the bill. He looked a little shell-shocked after the vote.

“I’m disappointed in the vote by the United States Congress on the economic recovery plan,” the president said from the Oval Office. “We will work with leaders of Congress on a way forward.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was just as adamant that the vote “cannot stand.”

Instead of adjourning for the year, House leaders say they’ll reconvene on Thursday. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) said that “things need to cool down a little bit” before lawmakers could start resurrecting their financial bailout effort. He said lawmakers needed to settle in and digest what had happened and then move forward. Dodd said he was still confident that Congress would pass a bailout bill in the end.

“This is not an easy vote; our constituents are not happy about this and rightfully so,” said Dodd, predicting that it would take another couple of days to work this out. “As angry as they may be right now, they are going to get a lot angrier — and they should — if we don’t act.”

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