WASHINGTON — A push by the Senate, a change in tone from constituents, and pressure from within each major political party is designed to force the House to reverse course and approve a bill this week to stabilize the financial markets.
The Senate was expected to pass its version of the bill late Wednesday after revising it to include additional incentives for wary Republicans, including a temporary increase in the deposit insurance limit and an extension of tax breaks.
With that outcome relatively assured, policymakers were focused on whether the House would accept the bill if it takes another vote Friday. Though some lawmakers predicted the bill would pass, there were no definitive commitments, and industry lobbyists privately fretted the legislation may still fall through.
House lawmakers for and against the bill agreed that it was unlikely leadership would bring the bill up for a vote again unless they had secured the votes to pass it.
"Are we boxed in? Yes, because the Senate at this point is going to take it up tonight and then adjourn, so it is 'Take it or leave it' on our side," said Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a free-market conservative on the House Financial Services Committee, who still opposes the bill. "It is essentially the same bill. That is a very high-stakes risk that the Senate is taking, and the only way they could do that I would believe is if leadership" thinks it has the votes.
Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., a Financial Services Committee conservative who also opposes the bill, said that he doubts that the Senate would have taken up the measure Wednesday unless House leadership was certain they had the votes to pass it.
"My guess is that they have done a better job of counting votes or else the Senate wouldn't be taking it up now," he said.
But the revised Senate bill was not without risk. Many Republicans favor the tax extensions, but conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who split on the bailout bill, are against them. Adding those provisions to the mix may peel away some Democratic support.
"They have to hold the Blue Dogs, and that's not a certainty because of the opposition to the extenders," said Howard Glaser, a mortgage industry consultant and a former Housing and Urban Development Department official under the Clinton administration. "The pronouncement we are hearing from leadership about getting the bill moved is in part designed to not spook the market but beneath that facade of confidence there's still deep uncertainty about whether the votes are there in the House."
But Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois, a leading Blue Dog and a member of the House Financial Services Committee, said she expected most Blue Dogs to stay in line.
"There will be some who are going to be very unhappy that the entire package isn't paid for, but we have gone a long way to cover the majority of the cost so taxpayers aren't picking up the tab," she said.
Some Republicans already appeared to be considering a switch. Rep. Patrick Tiberi of Ohio opposed the bill Monday but may change his vote, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
"He did say he is very encouraged by some of the provisions in the Senate bill, but we'll have to wait and see what is brought up," the spokeswoman said.
But there were troubling signs as well. Rep. Bachmann said she expected most of the 13 votes needed to win support for the bill should come from the 95 Democrats who voted against it on Monday.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi "doesn't need the Republicans," Rep. Bachmann said. "She can deliver those votes. I can't imagine she would endure the embarrassment and/or shame of bringing that up on the floor again and then watching it fail."
Rep. Bean, however, said it was up to the Republicans, two-thirds of whom opposed the bill in Monday's 228-to-205 vote, to change their minds.
"We will be able to achieve passage, and that's going to have a lot to do with the House GOP and making sure the communication happens there to get that done," she said. "That's where the votes' disconnect is between leadership and membership, so I would expect that they are going to make sure this time."
Rep. Bean said she had been busy talking with regulators and trying to persuade colleagues who opposed the bill to get on board.
"I have spoken to a few," she said. "There are definitely those who have changed their opinions. … There has been tremendous progress."
President Bush, both presidential candidates, and members of House leadership from both parties were busy working to persuade members to support the bill, but spokespeople for Reps. Pelosi, John Boehner, Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., would not comment on vote counts.
Industry lobbyists said they were cautiously optimistic that the stock market's historic 777-point tank after the bill's failure on Monday helped to spark a change in tone among voters who previously had overwhelmingly opposed the legislation.
Lawmakers and congressional staff members said Wednesday that the calls from constituents had started to even out once they realized their 401(k) and other investments were at stake. With just a little over a month until the November elections, lawmakers are especially attuned to voters' concerns. "The drop in the stock market on Monday concentrated a lot of people's minds," Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, said in an interview on CNBC.
Wednesday's Senate vote was designed to force the House to act, observers said, a tactic they said is likely to work.
"It get's the momentum rolling again and perhaps people are reconsidering their votes in light of the potential consequences," said Stephen Ornstein, a partner at Thacher Proffitt & Wood LLP. Still, no one was taking House approval of the bill as a given.
"It's going to remain in doubt till it's done," said a banking lobbyist.