WASHINGTON — Defying the White House and the House Republican leadership, Republican Rep. J. Grisham Barrett split from the rest of the South Carolina House delegation Monday and voted against the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry.
Barrett said he couldn't support a package that could leave taxpayers picking up the tab for Wall Street's mess.
"I understand the need to act and I understand the urge to act quickly," Barrett said on the House floor. "... At the same time, we cannot allow the American taxpayers to become the insurance policy for financial decisions that did not turn out as planned."
The bailout package was defeated 228-205.
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Almost immediately the blame game began.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., blasted House Republicans who voted against the bill.
"We came to the floor today with a piece of legislation that the members of our caucus decided was in the best interest of the country," he said after the vote. "And 60 percent of them put aside all of their individual feelings, emotions, experiences, and voted for this bill. Sixty-seven percent of the Republican conference decided to put political ideology ahead of the best interests of our great nation."
But Republicans were quick to point the finger back at Democrats.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who has led Senate opposition to the bailout legislation, blamed the failure on the White House and congressional Democrats.
"President Bush and the Democrat Congress gave Americans two bad choices: do nothing or pass this bailout. Americans have said 'no' to both and demanded that we take a third way and do the right thing to grow our economy and reform our government," he said.
"Our economy is going through difficult times, but the American people are resilient," DeMint said. "Americans have told Congress they are willing to work through this problem instead of expanding the failed government that created it."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a supporter of the legislation, joined House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Republican whip Roy Blount of Missouri in saying a partisan floor speech by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California convinced a dozen or so Republicans who were going to vote for the bill to vote against it.
"I have never been more disappointed in the Congress than I am today," Graham said. "... Speaker Pelosi's partisan comments before the vote obviously did not help matters. Now is not the time for extreme partisanship but time for our nation to pull together for the common good."
Even those who voted in favor of the bill had reservations. Speaking earlier on the House floor in support of the bill, Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., said nobody came "to the well of this House today with any relish or enthusiasm."
But he thought the bill had been dramatically improved over the initial outline sent over by the White House.
Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., told his colleagues the risk of inaction was too great.
"When knowledgeable people tell us that there is a substantial chance of a depression, it's time to act," Inglis said on the House floor.
Republican Reps. Henry Brown and Joe Wilson also voted in favor of the bill.
"The cost of doing nothing during this economic crisis threatens the retirements and jobs of the people of the Second Congressional District of South Carolina," Wilson said. "This is not about Wall Street. It is about Main Street."
Wilson said the legislation rejected Monday was a vast improvement upon the proposal originally sent to Congress by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
"The legislation we considered on the floor this afternoon had tougher oversight and an alternative insurance plan to make Wall Street fix its own problems," he said. "It would have made sure that the first in line to recoup losses would be the American taxpayers who by no fault of their own were exposed to this crisis by the mishandling of others. This was not the best option available, and there are no perfect options. This was a compromise at a time when we need solutions."
(Lisa Zagaroli and Les Blumenthal of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed.)