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Illinois Representatives Weigh-In On Bailout Votes

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WASHINGTON - Unlike every other House member, Rep. Jerry Weller will never be blamed for voting the wrong way on the rejected $700 billion bailout bill for dealing with the nation's economic crisis. But he will get a chance.

The Illinois Republican was the only one of 434 representatives who did not vote at all Monday. The 435th member, Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, died recently and her seat remains vacant.

Weller's excuse for not being present was a "family matter," according to a brief statement released by his office that offered no other details.

"He will be present at the next vote on the rescue plan," the statement added.

The congressman has since returned to the Capitol. But both he and his spokesman haven't returned phone messages left in Washington and at his district office seeking further explanation.

Weller, who is married to a Guatemala senator and owns property in Nicaragua, announced last year he was retiring at the end of his term in January.

Since his announcement, he has missed far more votes than usual. For two full years of the 109th Congress he missed 32, but last month alone he missed 71.

He may have a chance to improve his voting record on Friday.

The Senate on Wednesday easily approved a new version of the bill in a bid to reach a compromise with the House, where the first bill fell only 12 votes short of passage. Weller is expected to join his House colleagues as early as Friday to vote on the Senate version, with the congressman's vote and the bill's fate still uncertain.

There is a predictive factor for Weller. Two-thirds of Republicans were against the first bailout bill and Weller has voted 87.5 percent of the time with his party during this Congress.

President Bush, both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders and presidential candidates supported the first bill. Now more pressure is coming from much of the business community, including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Bankers Association, after a record-breaking 788-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average following Monday's vote.

"This may not be a perfect bill but we feel we must do something to free up the credit markets," said Bushnell banker Michael Steelman, head of the Illinois Bankers Association. "We know that's a difficult vote. Hopefully, they've had time to consider the bill."

Illinois lawmakers could make a major contribution toward passage. The state's delegation split in half with seven Democrats and two Republicans in favor of the original bill and four Democrats and five Republicans against it.

Even Illinois' five representatives on the House Financial Services Committee, whose members often focus on complex Wall Street issues, were divided. Democrats Melissa Bean and Luis Gutierrez voted for it, while Republicans Don Manzullo, Judy Biggert and Peter Roskam were against.

Business lobbyists have identified Biggert, who faces a competitive re-election battle, and GOP Rep. John Shimkus, a heavy favorite for re-election, as the most likely "no" votes to switch to "yes."

Constituents are still overwhelmingly opposed to a bailout plan, Shimkus said.

"I continue to oppose this bailout, as the underlying features force taxpayers to foot the bill with no guarantee that this plan will solve the underlying problem," he said.

Biggert did not respond to phone and e-mail messages for comment.

"There is a huge disconnect between Wall Street and Congress, and Congress and the public," said Doug Whitley, president of the state's Chamber of Commerce. "The politicians don't seem to be accepting any responsibility for the economic consequences of their decisions."

Illinois lawmakers' votes seemed not to have much to do with electioneering, since only a few have a truly competitive race in November, and some of those voted for the legislation Monday against a tide of public opinion increasingly upset with a bailout plan.

Two Democratic supporters _ Bean and Bill Foster, who are members of Financial Services, backed the bill, though both are in Republican-leaning districts and face credible GOP opposition next month.

Bean, who defeated 35-year GOP Rep. Phil Crane four years ago, has carefully cultivated support in the business community and received many donations from it.

Foster, who succeeded former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert in a March special election following Hastert's retirement, is opposed by multimillionaire Jim Oberweis, who has been an investment manager for many years and who declared after the vote that he was against the bill.

"It's a choice between misery and something worse and only the really responsible thing to do is to make our best estimate of what is needed to unlock the credit system in our country and put real resources behind it," Foster said of the $700 billion plan.

On the Republican side of bailout advocates, Rep. Mark Kirk is embroiled in one of the nation's most expensive re-election fights against Dan Seals. Though Kirk's position was opposite of two-thirds of House Republicans, he comes from an affluent district and his Democratic foe also backs a bailout.

An opponent of Monday's bill, Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., has prepared a detailed plan to include in the final bill that he says could generate support from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which largely voted "no" earlier.

Jackson seeks protection for homeowners facing foreclosures.

"This crisis began first with the faltering of mortgage backed securities and now Congress must secure the backs of those carrying the mortgages first. The American dream (home ownership) should come before the American scheme (greed)," Jackson said in a statement.