WASHINGTON – The bill got better -- for some lawmakers. And back home, folks got scared after Monday's stock market plunge. Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain stepped up the pressure, as did Capitol Hill bosses like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
A Michigan congressman got a call from the head of General Motors.
All that combined to prod 58 House members who had voted a resounding "no" to the financial bailout on Monday to flip to "yes" just four days later. That means one of every four lawmakers who had helped shoot down the legislation did a complete reversal -- a gravity-defying pirouette, considering it came barely four weeks from Election Day on one of the most controversial issues of the year.
For some, the need to act became more urgent after car dealers and other local businesses complained about a credit freeze. Seven Californians heeded a warning from Treasurer Bill Lockyer that the state would be unable to issue bonds for highways, schools, housing or water projects and that cash reserves would be exhausted by the end of the month.
"Every Californian was scared to within an inch of their life by their state treasurer," scoffed Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., an opponent of the bill. "It's the herd mentality."
Thirteen members of the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whom spoke to Obama, made the switch. So did a number of freshman Democrats after a conference call with Obama, their party's presidential nominee, in which he promised an economic stimulus bill will be a top priority if he's elected.
Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Obama told him that as president he would focus on helping people threatened with bankruptcy because of problems with their mortgages. Said Cummings: "It's not every day you get the future president of the United States saying he'll work with you" on an issue you consider important.
Friday's 263-171 vote to send the bill to President Bush was so one-sided it lacked the drama of Monday's 228-205 tally slapping the bill down.
In fact, the measure passed so easily that top Democrats said the Senate's addition of a tax-cut package worth about $110 billion had little effect on the vote, that the shift in public opinion had been enough by itself.
"It was reality that had a major impact," said House Banking Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass.
Twenty-five Republicans switched to "yes" from Monday, joined by Jerry Weller of Illinois, who had missed the earlier vote.
Thirty-three Democrats switched to support the bill, while Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington went the other way.
McDermott blasted "sweeteners" like the tax cuts added by the Senate and said the refusal by that chamber to include an extension of unemployment payments "left out the millions of Americans who can't find a job and are running out of benefits."
But he was in a distinct minority as lawmakers rushed to embrace the measure after a 778 point drop in the Dow Jones industrials on Monday and a credit emergency among their own constituents.
"Some people went home and saw the problem intensifying at a local level," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. "While people may have been able to dismiss it a week ago, it's hard to dismiss today."
Obama also helped persuade conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats such as Allen Boyd of Florida to stick with the bill, despite their anger over $110 billion worth of deficit-swelling tax cuts added by the Senate. None of the 25 Blue Dogs who voted "yes" Monday switched to "no," despite their deficit worries.
Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., who faces one of the toughest re-election fights among House incumbents, switched from "no" to "yes." He said he received telephone calls from General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner and other auto and corporate executives as part of a lobbying effort.
"I've never talked to as many bank presidents in my life, over my entire life," he said.
He said he'd been reconsidering his initial vote almost from when he cast it on Monday.
Leaders said McCain, the GOP presidential nominee, also lobbied lawmakers. His campaign wouldn't say whom he had called. His fellow Arizona Republican, Rep. John Shadegg, said he got a call, but others waited by the phone to no avail.
"They told me he was going to call me. He didn't," said Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., who switched to "yes" anyway.
Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee -- one of the few remaining members of the GOP freshman class that was swept into power in 1994 -- said on Thursday he was switching to yes. He reported on Friday that he had then gotten an earful from constituents who said they were disappointed with him for supporting a bill that many see as a bailout for greedy Wall Street investors.
"Oh man, I did talk radio this morning at home and got lambasted," said Wamp. "You get really trashed at home at a moment like this and it's hard to not get emotional."
Rep. Bill Young of Florida, the longest-serving Republican in the House, said he didn't remember another issue in his 38-year career that led more constituents to contact his office. He said he'd received more than 3,000 calls, e-mails and letters, overwhelmingly opposing the bailout.
Among those lobbying him the other way in Washington were Vice President Dick Cheney, who Young said phoned him Friday morning.
"He thought it was important to pass this bill," said Young.
He voted against the bill anyway, just as he had Monday.