Congress blinked, Wall Street tanked and the mood Monday on Main Street pingponged in a narrow range between angry and anxious.
“Oh my gosh!” Christine Anderson, 62, of Huntington Beach exclaimed when told that Congress had defeated a $700-billion economic bailout proposal. “I thought it was a done deal. I know something has to be done, and it’s scary.”
The view from the 46th Congressional District of conservative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), one of 133 Republicans who voted against the plan put forward by the Bush administration, is one of deep mistrust of politicians and business leaders.
Whether they supported or opposed the bailout, taxpayers in this coastal district largely agreed that the worst is far from over -- and that any light at the end of the tunnel is likely to be a freight train.
“People think it’s never going to rain, and then it does,” said Robert Lade, 66, a retired lawyer in Costa Mesa. “I knew they [Wall Street bankers] were going to wreck the situation by over-speculating.”
To Lade, the idea of spending such a massive amount to buy bad investments would be akin to trying to extinguish a fire with $100 bills.
As the market tanked Monday, Lade read a newspaper’s business section at a Starbucks and contemplated his next move. Even though his stocks have declined, he plans on “riding it out.”
He believes Congress should resist pouring taxpayer money into financial markets that may plunge further.
“You want to promote public confidence and show that you’re doing something, but you don’t want to waste the public’s money if you haven’t hit the bottom of the market,” Lade said. “Nobody in Congress wants to get tagged with a recession or depression. They want to be able to blame the failure of the bailout on the other party. It’s a political dance.”
The size of the bailout stunned Joe Villines, 44, a Costa Mesa insurance adjuster who said he trades stocks every day.
“I’m totally against it,” he said of the bailout. “We shouldn’t be spending my tax dollars and all our tax dollars on idiots that knew what they were doing. . . . They were trying to cram it down our throats. The president is going to be gone soon, so I think he is trying to bail out his cronies.”
Villines doesn’t buy the dire predictions that the economy will collapse if a bailout isn’t done.
“We will weather [this] but we’ll do it a lot better without bailing out these idiotic companies and their speculations,” he said. “Let them fail. Other companies will come to take their place.”
Ginger Munson, a 60-year-old Republican who voted for Rohrabacher, isn’t as sanguine.
“I’m angry at him,” she said while shopping at the Bella Terra Mall in Huntington Beach. “We’re the largest superpower in the world. [The financial crisis] has shaken the core of our existence. We’ve got to get this bill passed to keep us going.”
Munson said she planned to leave a “very strong message” at the congressman’s office urging him to reverse his vote. “I’m calling him when I get home.”
But regardless of what Congress does next, Munson isn’t abandoning the stock market. She and her husband bought battered bank stocks Monday, sensing bargains were to be had.
“We’re betting that it does go up,” she said. “I don’t want to panic and make this worse.”
Juanita Hallock, 54, a house cleaner from Costa Mesa, was loading her car with groceries she’d just bought. She said she didn’t care about how the economic crisis was resolved, so long as the eventual outcome was positive.
She said she was watching from the sidelines because she owned no stocks. “My bank’s been driving me crazy trying to convince me to invest,” she said. “Good thing I didn’t.”
And although she was “very nervous” about the reaction on Wall Street to the House’s rejection of the bailout package, Hallock didn’t think it would affect her job directly.
People, she reasoned, always want a clean house.
Times staff writer Christopher Goffard contributed to this report.