9 P.M.

Bush Calls Bailout Vital to Economy, Will Meet With McCain and Obama

President Bush President urged congress to support the administration's proposed economic bailout in an address to the nation Wednesday night. Video by AP
By Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 25, 2008

President Bush said yesterday that the credit crisis that has seized world markets could devastate the U.S. economy unless Congress acts quickly to approve a $700 billion bailout plan for the nation's financial system, a message aimed at reluctant lawmakers as much as a deeply skeptical public.

"Our entire economy is in danger," Bush said in an address from the White House, emphasizing that the massive bailout was not targeted at "any individual company or industry. It is aimed at preserving America's overall economy."

Warning that "America could slip into a financial panic," Bush blamed the crisis on "easy credit" in the housing market and "the faulty assumption that home values would continue to rise." As mortgage loans went bad and borrowers defaulted, he said, investors have succumbed to a "widespread loss of confidence" that threatens to shut down consumer lending, decimate the stock market, cause businesses and banks to fail -- and cost millions of Americans their jobs.

"Ultimately, our country could experience a long and painful recession," Bush said. "Fellow citizens, we must not let this happen."

Bush delivered the prime-time speech, his first in over a year, after a clamor on Capitol Hill for him to acknowledge the most serious financial crisis in decades and to personally make the case for the government intervention his administration has proposed.

Five days after unveiling the bailout plan, which seeks to purchase troubled assets from faltering financial institutions, administration officials were still struggling to line up support among lawmakers appalled by its cost, doubtful of its methods and outraged by the speed with which they were being pushed to act. While the usually fractious Senate seemed to be coming together behind a version of the proposal, the administration had big trouble in the House, particularly among mistrustful Republicans who said the White House had failed to make a case for the bailout in terms ordinary people could understand.

"I'm seeking answers to two fundamental questions: Why this? And why now?" Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) said before Bush delivered his remarks. "You can't make a move this large without the approval of the American people. And we don't have it, yet."

Despite such skepticism, top members of the House Financial Services and Senate Banking committees are slated to sit down this morning in an effort to draft the final details of a bipartisan bill. Bush also invited congressional leaders as well as presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama to meet with him at the White House today.

The president's top economic advisers were lobbying hard yesterday for passage of the bill. In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said the White House would drop its resistance to lawmakers' demands for limits on executive compensation at companies that accept taxpayer money. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the committee's chairman, called that a "big step forward" and said he would push next year to apply those limits more broadly.

Frank said Democrats in the House and Senate had reached agreement on a bill that would include an oversight board to monitor the bailout program, requirements that taxpayers share in future profits of companies that seek assistance and new powers for bankruptcy judges to modify home mortgages for distressed borrowers. Lawmakers also discussed doling out the money in segments, Frank said, adding, "It's not going to be a straight $700 billion."

Democrats will present that bill this morning to Republican lawmakers in hopes of reaching a final agreement, Frank said. He said the biggest sticking points are likely to be the bankruptcy provision and a proposal by Senate Democrats to dedicate to affordable housing some of the proceeds from the eventual sale of the assets.

Hours before Bush's speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a joint statement saying they were "working in a bipartisan manner" and had "made progress" on a bill. But even as the substance of a deal began to take shape, the politics were in turmoil. McCain declared that he did "not believe that the plan on the table will pass" and announced he was leaving the campaign trail to return to Capitol Hill to lead negotiations, a move panned by Democrats as a political stunt. Meanwhile, with less than six weeks until the November election, Democratic leaders said they would approve the plan only if a majority of Republicans in both chambers endorsed it as well.

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