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Suburban lawmakers get early say on bailout
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/23/2008 12:04 AM

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Suburban lawmakers will have a considerable say in crafting the Bush Administration's $700 billion bailout package, though many of them remain undecided on the specifics.

Five U.S. representatives covering the Chicago suburbs sit on the House's 70-member financial committee that is now charged with hashing out the nation's largest bailout since the Great Depression.

Most agree such a historic move is called for, but they are taking a wait-and-see approach on calls for additions to the bailout proposal that may cause more division.

"This is clearly something we need to do," said U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, who has handled phone calls between both Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a Barrington Hills resident, and committee chair Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

"The challenge is whether we can work out some of the details," the Barrington Democrat cautioned.

The key question that remains centers on whether tighter market regulations, limits on CEO pay and stricter oversight should be pushed in a separate piece of legislation.

Such additions may threaten, or at least slow down, approval. But many lawmakers are intent on ensuring the package doesn't lack important safeguards.

The Bush Administration is pushing for quick approval, warning delay could further weaken the economy.

"They are rushing it," said U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, a Rockford Republican whose district stretches into Algonquin and Barrington Hills.

Manzullo may be the most skeptical of the suburban lawmakers who sit on the committee. He is leaning "heavily no" on voting for a bailout without stricter regulation and oversight.

"You don't just sit there and give the federal government the authority to write checks for $700 billion without making sure it won't happen again," he said.

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican whose district includes most of DuPage County and parts of Northwest Cook County, said the number of unanswered questions gives him pause.

"I think the speed at which this is moving has a lot of people concerned," he said of the plan put forward by Paulson over the weekend.

Some lawmakers across the country are refusing to go along with the bailout, because they see government involvement as causing more problems. But those representing the suburbs on the financial committee appear to believe today's crisis warrants intervention.

"This is one time where I don't think the free market can really resolve what happened," said U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, whose district covers suburbs largely south of I-88, the Reagan Tollway.

The Hinsdale Republican said she would wait to see how the debate shapes up on the details before taking sides. But she was certain a massive bailout is needed.

The critical committee vote may come as early as Wednesday and then the full House will have a vote followed by the Senate.

"Addressing this financial crisis is not an option for us," said Bean. "We have to increase confidence and stability in the markets."

Rep. Bill Foster, a Geneva Democrat, says he too favors some sort of government intervention but is waiting to see more details.