WASHINGTON - "Let me just give you the dilemma," Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said yesterday.
The Baltimore Democrat described a visit this week from a local manufacturer who had trouble getting a loan from his longtime banker. The Baltimore businessman could benefit from the $700 billion rescue package if it succeeds in loosening credit.
Then Cummings returned to the story of a Baltimore neighbor now facing foreclosure. When they met on their block one morning this week, Cummings had to admit that the package offers no assurance that the man will be able to restructure his loan."The question," Cummings said, "is: How do you address all of this?"
Earlier this week, his answer was to vote against a government bailout and demand more assistance for homeowners facing foreclosure. Yesterday, after he had received assurances from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama that such homeowners would get relief, he changed his answer.
Cummings and fellow Maryland Democrat Donna Edwards, whose opposition helped sink the earlier version of the bailout Monday, voted in favor of the package yesterday. They were two among dozens who changed their votes, and their switch helped to secure its passage.
The rest of the Maryland delegation voted yesterday as they did Monday. Democratic Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes and Chris Van Hollen and Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest backed the plan to use public money to buy up bad mortgages and other toxic debt.
Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett voted against it.
"I am disappointed better alternatives weren't allowed a vote," the Western Marylander said. "This bill, paid for by taxpayers, fails to fix problems caused by government policies."
But Hoyer, the House majority leader, called the bill "essential."
"What happens on Wall Street is bound up with the jobs of millions, and the retirements of millions, and the homes of millions, and the dreams of millions," the Southern Marylander said in a speech in the House.
Cummings and Edwards, who represent districts hit hard by foreclosures, pushed for provisions in the package that would have allowed homeowners to restructure mortgage loans.
Edwards said that rejecting the earlier version of the bailout offered an opportunity "to try to engage in a different conversation with our leadership and with the administration about the absolute need to do something at the bottom as well as at the top."
But she lamented that "almost from the beginning, we haven't been able to impress on our colleagues the importance of protections through the bankruptcy courts for individual homeowners facing foreclosure."
Instead of the legislative language they sought, Cummings and Edwards got calls from Obama, who told them as president he would make such restructuring a priority.