Lawmakers in agreement on bailout plan to save economy on the rocks
WASHINGTON -- Congressional leaders and the White House agreed Sunday to a $700 billion rescue of the ailing financial in-dustry after lawmakers in-sisted on sharing spending controls with the Bush ad-ministration.
The biggest U.S. bailout in history won the tentative support of both presidential candidates and goes to the House for a vote today.
The plan, bollixed up for days by election-year politics, would give the administration broad power to use taxpayers' money to purchase billions upon billions of home mortgage-related assets held by cash-starved financial firms.
Flexing its political muscle, Congress insisted on a stronger hand in controlling the money than the White House had wanted. Lawmakers had to navigate between angry voters with little regard for Wall Street and administration officials who warned that inaction would cause the economy to seize up and spiral into recession.
A deal in hand, Capitol Hill leaders scrambled to sell it to colleagues in both parties and acknowledged they were not certain it would pass. "Now we have to get the votes," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader.
The final legislation was released Sunday evening. House Republicans and Democrats met privately to review it and decide how they would vote. "This isn't about a bailout of Wall Street, it's a buy-in, so that we can turn our economy around," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The largest government intervention in financial markets since the Great Depression casts Washington's long shadow over Wall Street. The government would take over huge amounts of devalued assets from beleaguered financial companies in hopes of unlocking frozen credit.
"I don't know of anyone here who wants the center of the economic universe to be Washington," said a top negotiator, Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. But, he added, "The center of gravity is here temporarily. ... God forbid it's here any longer than it takes to get credit moving again."
The plan would let Congress block half the money and force the president to jump through some hoops before using it all. The government could get at $250 billion immediately, $100 billion more if the president certified it was necessary, and the last $350 billion with a separate certification -- and subject to a congressional resolution of disapproval.
Still, the resolution could be vetoed by the president, meaning it would take extra-large congressional majorities to stop it.
Lawmakers who struck a post-midnight deal on the plan with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson predicted final congressional action might not come until Wednesday.
The proposal is designed to end a vicious downward spiral that has battered all levels of the economy. Hundreds of billions of dollars in investments based on mortgages have soured and cramped banks' willingness to lend.
"This is the bottom line: If we do not do this, the trauma, the chaos and the disruption to everyday Americans' lives will be overwhelming, and that's a price we can't afford to risk paying," Sen. Judd Gregg, the chief Senate Republican in the talks, told The Associated Press. "I do think we'll be able to pass it, and it will be a bipartisan vote."