Sticks, Carrots And A Failed Bailout

Jill Jackson is a Capitol Hill field producer for CBS News.


Early this morning, members of the House were starting to think they might actually pass an economic rescue package hammered out in late night negotiations over the weekend. But democrats and republicans were not going to take any vote for granted – especially when the bill would commit up to $700 billion of taxpayer money. Plus, it's an election year and members are getting hundreds of calls and e-mails from constituents urging their congressmen to vote "no."

Both democratic and republican leadership committed their support to the final package. But everyone knew the vote would be tight. And that's why there are whips in the House – members of leadership who count the votes and use carrots and sticks to get members to vote a certain way. Sometimes it's arm-twisting. And sometimes they just a promise of a favor down the line. Sometimes it's an appeal to party unity.

After three hours of debate on the bailout, it was time for a 15-minute vote. Members were keenly aware that voting one way could cause more trouble in the economy, perhaps even a deep recession. Vote the other way and it's a Wall Street bailout. Republican Congressman Chip Pickering of Texas called it a "legacy vote."

As the clock started to tick down, republican minority whip Roy Blunt made the rounds on the republican side of the chamber. He would casually walk around and sit with a member or two, whisper something in their ear and then get back up. His deputy whip Eric Cantor did the same.

On the democrats' side of the chamber, Majority Whip Steny Hoyer and conference chair Rahm Emanuel ran around trying to manage their party's vote since they did not want democrats to vote overwhelmingly for the package. Speaker Nancy Pelosi's made clear that this bailout, or economic recovery package, had to pass with both democrats and republicans.

The vote moved slowly. Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner had one quick exchange in the front of the chamber. The Speaker looked like she wanted folks to vote faster. Boehner just shrugged.

And then, the vote froze at 207 yeas to 226 nays. The clock had run out, but democrats kept the vote open hoping enough republicans would change their votes. The tension spiked when it was clear that votes would change, but only by two votes over to the nay category.

Members stared grimly up at the tallies. Democrats, along with Pelosi and Rep. Barney Frank, crowded around the leadership and committee tables and stayed pretty stationary. Hoyer crossed over to Blunt on the republican side to get a read on if there was any hope left.

When it was clear the whips could whip no more. The vote was closed. Final vote: 205 yeas to 228 nays.

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    Jill Jackson is a CBS News senior political producer.