WASHINGTON - Lawmakers are considering extending the Treasury Department's federal guaranty program for money market mutual funds, suspending fair value accounting, and raising the deposit insurance limit at banks, in an effort to convince at least 12 members to change their votes on legislation designed to calm the financial markets.
The changes are aimed at House Republicans, two-thirds of whom voted against the bailout bill in its surprising defeat Monday on the House floor. House leaders only need to persuade a dozen lawmakers to change their minds for the legislation to be approved in that chamber.
The proposed adjustments "should be enough to get the votes," said Brian Gardner, a political analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. "They also have to keep the political rhetoric down, and if they do both of those then I think it will be enough to get the votes. I don't think it passes overwhelmingly but it does better than what we saw yesterday."
Though Congress was adjourned Tuesday to observe Rosh Hashanah, policymakers' efforts to corral more support are continuing.
Lawmakers are considering whether to extend the time frame of the Treasury's $50 billion temporary federal guaranty program for money market funds that was announced Sept. 19 and opened Monday. The program was limited to coverage of amounts shareholders had in funds as of the end of Sept. 19, in order to alleviate the banking industry's fears it would lead investors to shift funds from certificates of deposits at banks to newly insured funds.
Also under consideration is a proposal to suspend mark-to-market accounting. Fair value accounting has been blamed for exacerbating the crisis by forcing banks to write down the value of assets whose value is difficult to determine. The bill defeated Monday had a provision allowing the Securities and Exchange Commission to study the impact of mark-to-market accounting and to suspend it. During the debate on Monday, however, Republicans said that did not go far enough.
Meanwhile, the SEC yesterday clarified the accounting rules for measuring fair value and the American Bankers Association applauded the guidance, saying: "It will help auditors more accurately price assets that are difficult to value under current market conditions.
Another proposal is whether to increase deposit insurance - an idea endorsed by both presidential candidates on Tuesday. Lawmakers were considering a provision that would allow the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. temporary authority to back any deposit in the event of a bank failure.
While that addition is seen as a way to placate angry consumers who see no benefit from the bill, Congress could also beef up a provision calling for a fee on the financial services industry if the proposed buyout facility - which would be allowed to buy and hold up to $700 billion in troubled assets - does not recoup its costs.
Currently, the bill would require the president to look at instituting such a fee on all financial institutions in five years if the facility has resulted in a loss to the government. Some have argued the fee should be mandatory.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the Democratic presidential nominee, appeared to embrace that position during a campaign stop in Nevada on Tuesday.
"If this is managed correctly, we will hopefully get most or all of our money back, possibly even turn a profit on the government's investment," Obama said. "If we do have losses, I propose to institute a financial stability fee on the entire financial services industry so that Wall Street foots the bill, not the American taxpayer."
Adding to the uncertainty is which chamber, the House or Senate, would take up a revised measure next.
The Senate had been set to take up the measure on Wednesday but that was unlikely given the House's rejection. Several analysts said House leaders would have to make changes to the bill first.
Policymakers spent much of the day trying to gather more support. In a morning address, President Bush promised to push ahead; he pledged to call members throughout the day.
"I'm disappointed by the outcome, but I assure our citizens and citizens around the world that this is not the end of the legislative process," Bush said.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson reached out to congressional leadership and members on Tuesday to persuade reluctant lawmakers. He also held a conference call with roughly two hundred bankers, including the American Bankers Association's board and state executives.
"He had some tough questions from the bankers, but he was very clear - we need the legislation," said Diane Casey-Landry, the trade group's chief operating officer. "The equity markets are up, but people need to focus on the fact the credit markets are still frozen."
But some question what leverage Bush and Paulson have to resurrect the bill.
"The calls have to come from constituents," said Laurence Platt, a lawyer at K&L Gates. "The leaders are being tuned out."
That did not stop them from trying, however. House and Senate leadership for both parties held conference calls on Tuesday to plan a path forward.
"The reality is I think cooler heads are prevailing and my personal view is they're going to get a package together," said an industry source. "It may be changed a little. There will be changes but it will be done this week."
Some lawmakers are hopeful the bill would get back on track.
"The market sent us a strong message yesterday that no action is not a solution," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., referring to Monday's 777-point stock market drop.
"We're not going to sit around and point fingers. We are going to get the job done and we are going to get it done this week."
Obama and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee, joined the calls on Tuesday for a resolution to be reached. Obama said the bill failed in part because of a poor sales job. Most Americans believe the government will spend $700 billion, and never make it back.
"When it's called a bailout, no one is in favor of a bailout," he said. "But this not a plan to just hand over $700 billion to a few banks on Wall Street ... We can't afford not to act so both parties who are close to accepting this plan over the next few hours, the next few days, should seek out any new ideas that might get this done, that make the proposal better."
McCain said inaction is not an option.
"We have to act," he said. "Even though we failed yesterday ... we will go back to this."