By CARL HULSE and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
WASHINGTON — In a moment of historic import in the Capitol and on Wall Street, the House of Representatives voted on Monday to reject a $700 billion rescue of the financial industry. The vote came in stunning defiance of President Bush and Congressional leaders of both parties, who said the bailout was needed to prevent a widespread financial collapse.
The vote against the measure was 228 to 205, with 133 Republicans turning against President Bush to join 95 Democrats in opposition. The bill was backed by 140 Democrats and 65 Republicans.
Supporters vowed to try to bring the rescue package up for consideration again as soon as possible, perhaps late Wednesday or Thursday, but there were no definite plans to do so. A former Treasury Department official predicted that the administration would try to get another House vote before the end of the week, and with only “tiny tweaks” to the package, given the relative closeness of the vote.
Stock markets plunged as it appeared that the measure would go down to defeat, and kept slumping into the afternoon when that appearance became a reality. By late afternoon the Dow industrials had fallen more than 5 percent, and other indexes even more sharply. Oil prices fell steeply on fears of a global recession; investors bid up prices of Treasury securities and gold in a flight to safety.
The vote was a catastrophic political defeat for President Bush, who had put the full weight of the White House behind the measure and had lobbied wavering Republicans in intensely personal telephone calls on Monday morning.
“We put forth a plan that was big because we got a big problem,” the president said afterward. “And we’ll be working with members of Congress, leaders of Congress on the way forward. Our strategy is to continue to address this economic situation head on.”
The president was described as “very disappointed” by a spokesman, Tony Fratto. Mr. Bush’s disappointment may have been deepened by the fact that members of his own party voted against the package by more than 2 to 1.
Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., appearing at the White House late Monday afternoon, warned that the failure of the rescue plan could dry up credit for businesses big and small, making them unable to make payrolls or buy inventory. Vowing to continue working with Congress to revive the rescue plan, Mr. Paulson said it was “much too important to let fail.”
Supporters of the bill had argued that it was necessary to avoid a collapse of the economic system, a calamity that would drag down not just Wall Street investment houses but possibly the savings and portfolios of millions of Americans. Moreover, supporters argued, a lingering crisis in America could choke off business and consumer loans to a degree that could prompt bank failures in Europe and slow down the global economy.
Opponents said the bill was cobbled together in too much haste and might amount to throwing good money from taxpayers after bad investments from Wall Street gamblers.
House leaders pushing for the package kept the voting period open for some 40 minutes past the allotted time at mid-day, trying to convert “no” votes by pointing to damage being done to the markets, but to no avail.
The former Treasury Department official who predicted another House vote this week, and who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that before there could be another vote, he would expect Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, and Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican minority leader, to approach members with seats in safe districts and tell them, in effect: “You’ve got to do this. The fate of the country hangs on your vote.”The United States Chamber of Commerce vowed to exert pressure of another kind, warning in a letter to members of Congress that it would keep track of who votes how. “Make no mistake,” the letter said. “When the aftermath of Congressional inaction becomes clear, Americans will not tolerate those who stood by and let the calamity happen.”
Immediately after the vote, many House members appeared stunned. Some Republicans blamed Ms. Pelosi for a speech before the vote that disdained President Bush’s economic policies, and did so, in the opinion of the speaker’s critics, in too partisan a way.
“Clearly, there was something lacking in the leadership here,” said Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia.
Democrats, meanwhile, blamed the Republicans for not coming up with enough support for the measure on their side of the aisle.