OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma's U.S. senators were divided Wednesday night when the Senate voted on a $700 billion financial industry bailout package, with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn voting for it and fellow Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe voting against it.
The Senate passed the measure by a wide margin, 74-25, a few hours after 16 Oklahoma business and education leaders joined together to urge members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation to act immediately to pass a plan to address the nation's worsening economic crisis.
State Treasurer Scott Meacham also called for quick congressional action on a new plan to rescue the nation's failing financial markets.
Statements calling for the Oklahoma Congressional delegation to exert leadership came as the Senate prepared to take up a revamped version of an economic bailout plan that was defeated earlier this week by the House.
In a statement following the vote, Inhofe said Congress has a duty to figure out how best to help all Americans confront the financial crisis. “This bill does not do that,” he said.
Inhofe, who is seeking reelection next month, said he decided to vote against the measure “after examining the issue very closely and spending time with constituents, local business leaders and elected officials.”
“It is the American taxpayer, after all, who is being asked to foot the bill for this bailout. Constituents and business leaders here in Oklahoma continue to tell me they are hesitant to pay for mistakes made by others,” Inhofe said.
Although he voted against the bill, Inhofe said he is not opposed to taking “extraordinary action” to restore confidence in the financial markets, such as giving the Treasury Department “a freer hand to maintain stability in the financial sector.”
Inhofe's Democratic opponent, state Sen. Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City, said the bill passed by the Senate “is not strong enough” and criticized Inhofe for distancing himself from the debate over the financial bailout plan.
“Rather than being an active participant at the negotiation table and ensuring Oklahomans have a voice in this important decision, Jim Inhofe removed himself from the equation, offered no alternative solutions and abdicated his responsibilities as a U.S. Senator,” Rice said.
In a statement Monday, Coburn said there is no guarantee the plan will work, “but there is a guarantee that we will face a financial catastrophe if we do nothing.”
On Monday, only two of the state's five U.S. House members - Republican Tom Cole and Democrat Dan Boren -voted for the bailout proposal. Voting against it were GOP Reps. Mary Fallin, John Sullivan and Frank Lucas.
Matthew Dempsey, Inhofe's communications director, said constituents calling the senator in Washington were overwhelmingly opposed to the plan. “We've been slammed with calls, 150 an hour. Almost all of them asked us to oppose the bailout plan,” he said.
University of Oklahoma President David Boren and Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis joined 14 corporate leaders in urging congressional action.
The business leaders were Clay Bennett, chairman of the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball team; George Kaiser, chairman of BOK Financial Corp.; Gene Rainbolt, chairman of BancFirst Corp.; Robert E. Lorton III, publisher, Tulsa World; George Records Sr., chairman of Midland Financial Co.; and CEOs Bill Cameron of American Fidelity Assurance Co., Pete Delaney of OGE Energy Corp., John Gipson of ONEOK, Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, Inc., Cliff Hudson of Sonic Corp., Aubrey McClendon of Cheasapeake Energy Corp., Larry Nichols of Devon Energy Corp.; Stacy Schusterman of Samson and Tom Ward of SandRidge Energy.
Failure of Congress to act will lead to a credit crunch that will cost the state jobs and make home mortgages even more difficult to obtain, the leaders said.
“Extended delay or defeat of the plan will hurt everyone,” even well managed companies, causing a decline in state revenues to fund education, health, safety and other essential programs, the statement said.
“Leadership matters and it is time to lead,” the group continued. “This is no time to play the blame game.”