Bush Urges Action on Bailout Plan

Posted September 24, 2008 at 9:14pm

President Bush tonight used the highest bully pulpit he has – a primetime address from the White House – to salvage his plan to provide a $700 billion bailout to buy up bad mortgages from banks, suggesting Congress and the American people must agree to it or witness crippling damage to the economy.

Bush, who spoke for about 12 minutes, sketched a frightening view of the economic danger facing the United States, using unusually blunt and even dramatic language. “Our entire economy is in peril,” he said. “The market is not functioning properly. … America could slip into a financial panic” and “millions of Americans could lose their jobs.”

Bush has been mostly absent from the effort to build support for one of the most significant legislative initiatives of his presidency, offering only brief remarks while Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson meets with the press and, along with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, offers hours of testimony on Capitol Hill.

Paulson, Vice President Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and other top aides have waged a vigorous lobbying effort on Capitol Hill, while Bush appears to have made little effort to speak directly to Members.

The president outlined an updated view of his proposal, nodding or acquiescing to demands from lawmakers and the presidential candidates, Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.).

Bush remained committed to the $700 billion cost of the “rescue package,” saying most or all of it could be recouped as the mortgages recover their value and the government sells them back into the market.

But he accepted the concept of an oversight board to monitor the process, a key Congressional demand. While not explicitly agreeing to limit the pay of executives whose companies participate in the program, he said those who led the failing businesses should not “receive a windfall.” And he concurred that there should be measures to “ensure taxpayers are protected,” though he wasn’t specific.

The president also took great pains to emphasize his view that the bailout is not so much targeted at Wall Street as it is on Main Street, which would be crushed by the effects of a financial system meltdown.

The remarks came amid a backdrop of wild maneuverings on the campaign trail, with McCain suspending his campaign and seeking to postpone Friday’s debate Obama to join the effort in Washington to craft legislation.

Obama rejected McCain’s approach, saying he would continue his plans, and Democrats slammed McCain for what they said was an attempt to politicize the crisis.

The Commission on Presidential Debates said the show would go on for the good of the public.

There was some indication that voter disgust with Washington might spur the bipartisanship needed to find the way to a deal.

McCain and Obama released a joint statement of principles for the bailout.

“Now is a time to come together – Democrats and Republicans – in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people. The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bush Administration is flawed, but the effort to protect the American economy must not fail,” it said.

“This is a time to rise above politics for the good of the country. We cannot risk an economic catastrophe. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country.”

In another unusual move, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) released a joint statement Wednesday remarking on how well they were cooperating in crafting a bailout deal.

“Working in a bipartisan manner, we have made progress,” Pelosi and Boehner said. “We agree that key changes should be made to the Administration’s initial proposal. It must include basic good-government principles, including rigorous and independent oversight, strong executive compensation standards, and protections for taxpayers.”

But dissatisfaction with Bush’s plan among some Democrats and in conservative ranks runs deep. There are signs that Republicans might not be moved by Bush’s speech.

“Who’s giving the Republican response?” Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) quipped.