Paulson Asks Congress for Second $350 Billion of Rescue Package

By David Cho and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 20, 2008

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said yesterday that Congress must release the second half of the $700 billion financial rescue package, warning that emergency loans to the nation's automakers have all but depleted the funds available to stabilize the still-fragile financial markets.

Without fast action to replenish the fund that serves as the primary safety net for the financial system, Treasury officials and others said, the government would be hampered in its ability to respond to a fresh round of market turmoil.

Treasury officials are also facing a hard deadline. Although they had enough to give the car companies $13.4 billion yesterday, they need the second installment of the rescue package to help General Motors make another $4 billion debt payment in mid-February.

Paulson said the Treasury and the Federal Reserve have enough resources to handle a crisis for the time being. "It is clear, however, that Congress will need to release the remainder of the TARP to support financial market stability," he said in a statement.

Despite the urgent need for the funds, the Bush administration has not yet made a decision on whether to request the money, a Treasury official said. Paulson is concerned that Congress would say no, an event that could trigger havoc on the markets, according to sources who have been in contact with the Treasury.

The possibility of congressional rejection is real. Key lawmakers in both parties have expressed anger at how Paulson used the first half of the money, saying it was haphazardly managed, and have said they would be reluctant to hand over the rest to the Bush administration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said this week that any request from the administration for more rescue money would have to be accompanied by a proposal to use some of the money to help distressed homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Paulson has already begun talks with House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to craft such a plan, Frank said yesterday.

He said his discussions with Paulson have focused on several issues, including funding a proposal by Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila C. Bair for mortgage relief, initiating a program that would lower interest rates on loans for home purchases to 4.5 percent and compelling banks to lend out rescue money they receive from the federal government.

"I think agreement will easily be reached," Frank said.

If Paulson asks for the extra rescue funds, Frank said he would draft legislation on mortgage mitigation and offer it to lawmakers who might otherwise reject release of the additional money.

Treasury spokeswoman Michele Davis cautioned that the department is simply examining mortgage relief plans and that no decision has been made on the issue.

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