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Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly attributed to James B. Lockhart III, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, two details about a mortgage modification program being developed by the federal government. The information came from other experts. The details included the possibility that loans could be modified for borrowers who have fallen behind in their payments by as little as a single month and that lenders may be able to reduce payments to a lower percentage of a homeowner's income.

New Bailout May Top $1.5 Trillion

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By David Cho and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The gravity of the financial crisis confronting the Obama administration will come into stark focus today when officials unveil a three-pronged rescue program that may commit up to $1.5 trillion in public and private funds, and possibly more, lawmakers and other officials said.

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In announcing the plan, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will not ask Congress for more funds than the roughly $350 billion that remain in the Treasury Department's original rescue package for the financial system, though congressional sources said such a request could come later if the new programs are unsuccessful. The rest of the money would come from other government agencies, such as the Federal Reserve, as well as private-sector contributions.

A senior administration official warned last night that the ultimate cost to taxpayers has not been determined. Several of the programs have not been finalized, and most are designed to ultimately return money to taxpayers.

Geithner plans to announce a public-private partnership that would seek to finance the purchasing of toxic bank assets that are at the heart of the credit crisis, officials and congressional sources said. These sources briefed by Treasury officials said the program may initially raise $250 billion to $500 billion in public and private funds to offer low-cost financing to encourage investors to buy the toxic assets. An administration official said the proposal is still subject to a public review and may not take final shape for several weeks.

A second initiative will broaden the scope of a Federal Reserve program aimed at unclogging the markets for auto, student and other consumer loans. That initiative may expand to as much as $1 trillion, using $100 billion from the Treasury's rescue funds, and include aid for commercial real estate markets.

A third program would offer direct help to the nation's largest banks. The government plans to conduct a review of major financial firms to determine how much they may need. Any federal aid would come with conditions that would give the firms incentives to pay the money back as soon as possible. The review would determine the ultimate price tag of this program.

The primary goal of the bank-by-bank examination is to help regulators figure out whether these firms could withstand a downturn even worse than the current one, administration officials said.

This "stress test" would also help regulators determine whether the nation's major banks have enough capital to continue lending and help them in an effort to set uniform values for the toxic assets clogging their books.

"Right now, part of the problem is that nobody really knows what's on the banks' books," President Obama told reporters at a news conference last night. "Any given bank, they're not sure what kinds of losses are there. We've got to open things up and restore some trust."

If these large banks receive federal aid, they would be subject to tougher conditions than the Bush administration imposed and be required to submit reports to prove they are using the aid to do more lending.

They would be banned from using government funds to pay dividends above a penny or buy healthy firms until the government investment is repaid. Their chief executives would face compensation restrictions that would limit their annual pay to $500,000. Any compensation above that could come only in the form of stock that could not be sold until the federal loans are returned.

The initiatives require all of the nation's bank regulators to work together, which has not been an easy task, an official said. Geithner also plans to push regulators around the world in the coming days to adopt similar approaches to the spreading crisis in their countries, the official added.


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