Bailout Bill Comes With Additions, Earmarks

This story was written by Eva Dou, The Maneater

Although Congress' $700 billion bailout was aimed at alleviating the financial crisis, the 450-page bill passed Friday included a gamut of issues including mental health parity, clean-energy credits and support for a wooden arrow company.

The critics decried the package as full of pork, and some representatives, like U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who originally opposed the bill, decided the cost of doing nothing outweighed the $150 billion in additions.

The House passed a revised version of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act by a 263-171 vote on Friday, after rejecting the original bill four days earlier.

The Missouri House delegation voted 5-4 for the new version of the bill, including Republicans Roy Blunt and Jo Ann Emerson and Democrats Russ Carnahan, Emanuel Cleaver and Ike Skelton in favor of the bill. Reps. Kenny Hulshof, Todd Akin and Sam Graves, all Republicans, and Democrat William Lacy Clay, voted against the bill.

"No one, and I mean absolutely no one, thinks the Senate did America any favors by viewing this bill as a vehicle to include tax packages that are dubious," Cleaver said in a news release.

Cleaver believed the financial relief measures of the bill were needed after learning the credit crunch threatened normal government activities, including Kansas City's ability to sell bonds to fund public projects, his spokesman Danny Rotert said.

Akin stuck to his vote against the bill, calling the proposal "less than adequate in that it includes no reform of the laws and rules" which he said were responsible for creating the present problems.

"I remain skeptical of the heart of this proposal, which is spending $700 billion taxpayer's dollars to purchase toxic debt from Wall Street," Akin said in a news release.

The Senate revision of the bill last week tacked on a host of unrelated provisions.

One addition was 20 years in the making: a mental health parity law.

After years of lobbying by mental health groups, the passage of the law provides for mental illnesses to be covered by insurance on the same level as physical illnesses, said Cynthia Keele, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Health Missouri.

"It's such a big step forward for us," Keele said. "It's long overdue, but this is going to make a difference in a lot of lives."

Although Missouri passed its version of the mental health parity law in 2004, it covered only 40 percent of patients, since the statute did not affect self-insured companies, Keele said.

The new federal law supersedes the Missouri law, providing improved mental health coverage across the board, as well as parity for substance addiction, she said.

Another provision of the bill was clean-energy tax credits for wind and solar power and clean coal development. The law also gives a tax credit to drivers of plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Certain earmarks, such as a tax break for makers of wooden toy arrows in Oregon, drew criticism from watchdog groups. One group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, called the provision the No. 1 "tax sweetener" of the bill.

Hulshof said in a news release on Friday that he voted against the bill twice, partly because of the "excessive" price tag. Other reasons included the limited role given to Congress in the Treasury's purchases of so-called "toxic" mortgage assets and the bill's failure to address issues such as naked short selling, a practice that has exacerbated the financial crisis.

Hulshof said he supported some of the bill's additions, including the mental health parity provision and clean-energy amendments.

"Those provisions, howevr, should be considered in separate legislation and should not be added as an enticement to sway additional votes as the tax extenders are not germane to the issue the bailout package seeks to address," he said.

Despite the additions,University of Missourimanagement professor Karen Schnatterly said the bailout bill is a "reasonable response."

"It concerns me when people say it's a Wall Street bailout, because it's also a Main Street bailout," Schnatterly said. "They are so tightly linked we can't pull them apart."

Judy Starr, chief financial officer of the Boone County National Bank, also said the bailout is necessary for the country to avoid further financial decline.

"It's not a clean bill," Starr said. "But it is trying to take bad assets off the books from these financial institutions to give banks an element of trust in each other. From that standpoint, it's a good thing."