LoBiondo votes against revised bailout bill

(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008.)

At least 57 members of the House of Representatives changed their vote Friday to support the revised $700 billion financial industry bailout, but U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo was not one of them.

LoBiondo, R-2nd, again voted against the bill, which passed 263 to 171, saying it lacked legitimate reform of Wall Street or protections for taxpayers.

“The original proposal lacked necessary reforms and needed regulations to ensure we are not again facing this crisis, or one even greater, in the near future,” LoBiondo said. “Today’s bill continues those failures.”

U.S. Senate lawmakers successfully swayed dozens of their House counterparts, including two from New Jersey, by passing Wednesday a revised companion bill that included numerous earmarks and tax incentives. Among these so-called sweeteners were a tax break for motor sports parks such as the one in Millville and NASCAR venues, a revision to the alternative minimum tax, and wind and solar energy tax credits similar to those in the recent off-shore drilling bill.

At least 25 Republicans and 32 Democrats changed their votes since Monday’s vote on the bailout, which failed by a 228 to 205 vote. Two vote-switchers are from northern New Jersey: U.S. Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-11th, and Bill Pascrell, D-8th.

U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., voted Wednesday for the Senate’s companion bill.

“This was not about Wall Street,” Menendez said Friday. “It was about keeping small businesses running, keeping people in their jobs, and making sure loans for a car, an education or a home are available. Nobody in Congress is happy about the dismal position our economy is in or the distasteful choices that we have been forced to make, but doing nothing was not an option.”

LoBiondo spokesman Jason Galanes said the sweeteners prompted LoBiondo’s consideration, largely because they had been tenets he had voted for several times, such as a change to the alternative minimum tax that would have exempted the lowest tiers of those affected. The motor sports tax break would extend by one year a seven-year depreciation table for race tracks, accounting for a $100 million tax break over 10 years.

In the end, LoBiondo stuck to his first vote and was one of five New Jersey congressmen — two Democrats and three Republicans — to reject the Bush administration’s plan.

“In my assessment, we failed to protect the taxpayer in our hasty efforts to find a silver bullet to remedy an issue that has no single solution,” LoBiondo said. “Congress must enact significant reforms to the operations of Wall Street which undeniably affect Main Street. Our financial stability and long-term economic prosperity cannot and shouldn’t wait until a new administration is sworn into office.”

LoBiondo was still in his Washington office making phone calls to economists and other contacts less than an hour before the Friday afternoon vote, Galanes said. Among those he consulted were former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman William Isaac and William Poole, former chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

“I am more convinced today that forcing each taxpayer to pony up $2,300 of their hard-earned money to bail out Wall Street’s misconduct will not fix the underlying problems,” LoBiondo said. “I believe the FDIC should have insured deposits up to $1 million, rather than the $250,000 approved in this legislation, which would reassure small businesses that their deposits are safe.”

LoBiondo signed on Thursday as the first co-sponsor to a bill calling for a bipartisan commission, similar to the 9/11 Commission, to examine the causes of the financial crisis. U.S. Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., introduced HR 7104 last week.

“Such an investigation is needed,” CNBC financial commentator and Vineland-based consultant David Kotok wrote in an e-mail Thursday night. “And it is needed to be done by independent parties and not by members of our national legislature.”

LoBiondo’s vote against the bailout drew criticism from his Democratic re-election challenger, Cape May City Councilman Dave Kurkowski. His campaign released a written statement saying, “For the second time in a week, my opponent has cast his lot against this bipartisan effort to prevent the American economy from plunging into freefall. This time, thank goodness, he and the others who are standing obstinately against this bipartisan rescue plan were in the minority.”

Kurkowski did not specify why he supported the Bush administration’s plan. His spokesman, Jonathan Riehl, said he was in Philadelphia and Kurkowski could not be reached for comment by telephone.