ATLANTA Opposing the White House's Wall Street bailout and letting stocks take a beating was a worthwhile price to pay to keep a "socialist bill" from meddling in the free market, conservative talk radio said on Tuesday.
Many of the influential hosts strongly oppose the rescue plan proposed last week by President George W. Bush, once a talk-radio favorite, as inappropriate government intervention in the free market likely to make the situation worse, not better.
Congress will live to regret it if the $700 billion bill were passed hastily, they said, urging lawmakers to spend more time on a search for a solution that adheres to conservative ideals.
"I shouldn't say this, but I'm going to say it anyway. Screw the market! .... OK, I'll take that back, not screw the market but let me tell you something," conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh said as part of his analysis of Monday's events.
"When the government fails to pass a socialism bill and the market goes south, let it go south. I don't want to pass a socialism bill just to protect the stock market," said Limbaugh, by far the most popular host on U.S. radio.
"This raw deal would make things worse," he said on Tuesday.
The House of Representatives rejected the bailout package on Monday after most of House Democrats supported it, but a majority of House Republicans opposed it.
The surprise failure sent the market into a record tailspin and prompted a flood of bickering and fingerpointing from both parties.
Stocks recovered somewhat on Tuesday and Congress will have a chance to vote again or change the bill when it reconvenes on Thursday.
While conservatives said they recognized the seriousness of the market's fall, they would hold fast to their principles that on the economy include low taxes, small government and fiscal responsibility.
'NOT PARTICULARLY DISTRESSED'
"I'm not particularly distressed that the bailout bill did not pass. I want to see this thing (the bill) flesh itself out a little over a period of days," said talk show host Neal Boortz, who describes himself as a libertarian.
Hoping to win more support for the rescue plan, Bush said on Tuesday the U.S. economy was depending on decisive action or the economic damage could be "painful and lasting."
But part of the problem for some conservatives was a lack of confidence in a president they once saw as a champion of their cause for his commitment to tax cuts and his firm response to the September 11 attacks.
They blame the Democrats for the home mortgage crisis at the root of the problem, saying liberals put pressure on mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make housing loans to people who could not afford to repay them.
"I don't trust you (Bush) and when you start screaming now of dire consequences if we don't get a bailout bill, I don't trust you. I need convincing and apparently there are a lot of members of Congress who feel the same way," Boortz said, in a view echoed by several of his listeners.
Some callers to the shows said they did not appreciate what they saw as scare tactics used by Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
"It almost sounds like they are demagoguing and preaching that the sky is falling, which makes me skeptical," one said.
Tens of millions of conservatives tune in to AM talk radio and trust its nationally syndicated hosts more than media outlets they say have a liberal bias.
Several of the hosts say they are engaged in a long struggle to persuade the Republican Party and the country to return to its conservative roots and they see the bailout bill as an important test of their strength.
(Editing by Patricia Zengerle)