Monday’s House vote on the proposed $700 billion bailout package resulted in some strange political bedfellows. Perhaps most surprising was Rep. Keith Ellison — widely viewed as the most liberal member of the Minnesota delegation — aligned with staunch conservative Rep. John Kline in supporting the measure. The proposal was ultimately defeated by a 228-205 margin as many legislators bulked at bailing out Wall Street investment firms for their reckless behavior.
But Ellison staunchly defends his vote. “It’s very tempting for me to say I’m not quote unquote bailing out Wall Street,” says Ellison, speaking on the phone from Washington. “Who wants to bail out Wall Street? Nobody. But Wall Street is not completely disconnected from main street.”
The freshman says that the reaction from constituents has been mixed, but that the dismal economic climate compelled him to support the measure. “I’ve heard from countless realtors, community bankers, restaurant owners all talking about the dire impact this credit crisis is having on their businesses,” he says. “All these people have folks on their payroll. And all these folks who work for them have to make rent, they have to make mortgages, have to buy school lunches. I just can’t leave them adrift like that no matter how mad I am at Wall Street and those golden parachute people.”
Ellison acknowledges that there are additional measures that he wishes were included in the legislation, such as a provision allowing bankruptcy judges to alter the terms of mortgages held by struggling homeowners and a transaction tax to help cover the cost. “But you know what? It’s called Democracy,” he says. “If me and you had to order one pizza, we’d have to negotiate, and I wouldn’t get everything I wanted and you wouldn’t get everything you wanted. Hopefully we would end up with a pizza we could both eat.”
Ellison says he will back the bailout proposal again if it comes up for a second vote as expected tomorrow. He’s uncertain if the revised bill will ultimately pass, but notes that several legislators (most notably Minnesota Rep. Jim Ramstand) who opposed the measure on Monday now intend to vote for the package. “It looks like they’re creeping up,” he says. “I suspect they’ll get there because they’ve got the full-court press on them now.”