Lawmakers Hope To Vote On Deal In Days
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block. If congressional leaders thought they had a deal on a financial bailout plan when they went into a White House summit today, they sure didn't think so coming out. President Bush met at the White House with presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain along with congressional leaders, and somewhere along the line things went awry. Here's Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaking this evening after the meeting broke up.
HARRY REID: We're going to begin again tonight at eight o'clock to see if we can put this train back on the tracks. John McCain did nothing to help. He only hurt the process. We are convinced that there is a crisis out there that needs to be addressed. The sooner we're able to do that, the better off we are.
BLOCK: And the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, Senator Richard Shelby, came out of the White House meeting and said this.
RICHARD SHELBY: I can tell you, I don't believe we have an agreement. I have voiced my concerns all along. There are still a lot of different opinions. Mine is it's flawed from the beginning.
BLOCK: NPR's David Welna joins us from the Capitol. David, what happened at this meeting?
DAVID WELNA: Well, Melissa, Democrats at least went into the meeting at the White House saying that they had reached agreement with Senate Republicans and with House Democrats and some House Republicans. They had an agreement in principle about where they should go with this bailout plan. But when they got to this meeting at the White House, there were some House Republicans - including Minority Leader John Boehner and John McCain - there who seemed to have another plan that nobody had seen yet. And it's not really clear what is in that plan. One thing we've heard is that it's for $350 billion rather than $700 billion and that it would involve private insurance as part of it. But in a sense, this was a real surprise for those at the meeting, and they're in some ways back to square one. Things are quite stalled right now.
BLOCK: Back to square one. And you now have Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke going back to the Hill tonight for negotiations. Secretary Paulson's office issued a statement saying he appreciates the hard work by members on both sides of the aisle. Noting difficult credit market conditions, he urged members of both parties to complete legislation quickly. How likely do you think that is to happen?
WELNA: Well, you know, it's been exactly one week since Treasury Secretary Paulson and Fed Chairman Bernanke came up here to the Capitol to say what a dire situation existed with the financial markets and that Congress had to act. It's now one week later, and they right now still seem to be at least days away probably from reaching some kind of an agreement that could be passed by both chambers. And many people are saying, well, wait a minute, there are other ways to skin this cat, and maybe they should be examined.
And what's really not clear is how much time they have to do this before the country risks some kind of a financial collapse. Many people just don't really have much of a notion about how urgent this is. And right now we're not getting that many signs that the stock market went up today, and to many people it seems like life is normal. But at the same time, what they're hearing from financial experts is that things are pretty dire and they have to act quickly. They may stay in over the weekend to try to get this thing done.
BLOCK: Worth noting, David, the stock market went up when there was news that there seemed to be a deal. This meeting, where things seemed to break down, came after the market had closed. So a lot of people are going to be looking very anxiously at what happens in the morning.
WELNA: I'm sure they are. And it seems that these talks that are starting right now here at the Capitol are probably going to go well into the night. And tomorrow was supposed to have been the last day for Congress to be in session before adjourning to go campaign for the November elections. Now it looks like they're going to be here at least until Saturday, and - I mean, this buys more time for those who say we should take maybe a more careful look at this.
But really, many people are looking at Sunday evening as sort of the outside deadline, because Monday morning the markets are going to be opening up again. And there's a real expectation that by then Congress will have done something to solve this problem. What's really unclear, though, is how House Republicans are going to respond to the negotiations that are going on right now. It's not clear they're even going to be attending them. And they're saying, we don't buy into the idea of a bailout. We want a private solution to this.
BLOCK: David, what are you hearing on the Hill about the role that John McCain is playing in all of this?
WELNA: Well, you know, McCain broke away from his campaign yesterday. He said - well, he made one speech this morning, and then he came down to Washington. He said he was suspending his campaign so that he could help break a logjam on this, break a deadlock. And in fact, Democrats say that he made things much more complicated. Here's Barney Frank who is the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
BARNEY FRANK: I think this was a campaign ploy for Senator McCain. I think they then had this problem that there might not have been enough of a deadlock for him to resolve. And I don't know what motivated what, but next thing we know, he's in a position frankly where he's making it harder to get things done rather than help us negotiate differences. He's identified with a radically different approach that the secretary of the Treasury has already rejected.
BLOCK: David, sounds like it's going to be a long night there at the Capitol.
WELNA: It is. And as you can tell, presidential politics have worked their way into the financial crisis here.
BLOCK: NPR's David Welna at the Capitol, thanks so much.
WELNA: You're welcome, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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