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Talks Falter on Bailout Deal

Economic policymakers work to stabilize global financial markets and say Congress must act quickly on a proposed bailout plan to avoid dire consequences for the U.S. economy.

If the nation profits from the program, the agreement calls for most of the cash to be dedicated to deficit reduction, though a portion would go to funding affordable housing.

Frank said the primary remaining point of contention between Democrats and Republicans is a proposal to give bankruptcy judges new power to modify mortgages for troubled homeowners, an idea that is widely viewed as a bargaining chip. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) has said the provision, which is fiercely opposed by the banking industry, should not be included in the bill.

Meanwhile, House Democrats said they were still considering a separate plan to increase taxes to pay for a portion of the bailout, possibly by taxing stock transfers or levying a "surtax" on millionaires. But Democrats had agreed that any tax increase would not be included in the bailout bill.

Despite those stumbling blocks, Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), the chief negotiator for Senate Republicans, said early in the day that he was optimistic. "I now expect we will indeed have a plan that will pass the House, pass the Senate and be signed by the president and bring a sense of certainty to this crisis," Bennett said.

"We've reached fundamental agreement on a set of principles," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate banking committee, adding that a bill could pass within days.

Less than 30 minutes later, however, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who had attended the meeting on behalf of House Republicans, denied that an agreement had been reached. While progress was made on peripheral issues, Bachus said, House Republicans remained adamantly opposed to the central point of the plan: purchasing bad assets from struggling firms.

"There's not a deal. There's not a deal made. There was progress on the issues," Bachus told reporters. He said House Republicans "would prefer a loan where we fix an interest rate or we would prefer insurance" rather than having the government buy up bad assets.

Bachus said many of those ideas were supported by McCain, who returned to Washington yesterday to participate in the negotiations. Bachus said he spoke to McCain on Wednesday, had breakfast yesterday with two McCain advisers and spoke to McCain again immediately after the morning meeting.

But, Bachus said, "John's not trying to call the shots for the House caucus, I can tell you that. He's just opposed to the plan in its present form."

Frank reacted angrily to Bachus's remarks, saying lawmakers had been well on their way toward a bill they could put to a vote and accusing McCain of engineering a breakdown. "This is the presidential campaign of John McCain undermining what Hank Paulson tells us is essential for the country," he said.

Frank was in a fury as he and other Democrats departed for the late-afternoon meeting at the White House, a remarkable event given Bush's efforts to stay out of the presidential campaign.

Despite expectations that a deal was near, Boehner took off in a different direction during the meeting, saying the bailout plan was not gaining traction among rank-and-file House Republicans.

As Obama and Frank peppered Boehner with questions about the new proposal, Bush rejected the idea as a too-broad rewrite of his administration's plan, according to the handwritten notes of one Democrat present.

"Don't start over," Bush said. "Don't start over."

Staff writers Binyamin Appelbaum, Jonathan Weisman and Dan Eggen contributed to this report.

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