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White House Stresses Flexibility on Bailout

The White House today sought to portray President Bush as flexible on the terms of a bailout deal, acknowledging that several issues are in play and suggesting Bush values the legislation’s broader goals more than its particulars.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said the administration is working actively with lawmakers on efforts to alter the legislation, and she did not dismiss more sweeping “alternatives” to Bush’s plan proposed by House Republicans

“There are some alternatives and variations to what we have proposed that have come forward,” Perino said. “What the president said he would do is, at the end of the day, when this legislation is crafted, that he would look to his secretary of the Treasury and Ben Bernanke, the [Federal Reserve] chairman, and he would ask them one question: ‘Does this legislation do what needs to be done in order to help save the economy?’”

Perino added: “If their answer is ‘yes,’ then we’ll all have done our duty on behalf of the American people.”

Perino said the White House has already demonstrated flexibility by moving toward Republicans and Democrats “on a few things,” pointing to the administration’s acceptance of measures allowing greater transparency into the process created under the bill.

“I think there’s still some modifications that some of the Members want to see in that regard — we’re willing to look at them,” Perino said

She added that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is trying to work on the details with Congress of language limiting executive compensation, a key demand of lawmakers.

With criticism leveled from various quarters at the perceived lack of involvement by Bush in the issue prior to his address to the nation Wednesday night, Perino sought to emphasize the administration’s role in pushing for its own proposal.

The White House earlier today produced Bush for a few moments to express optimism about the prospects for a deal. Perino said that Bush has also been talking today with senior advisers at the White House and that he spoke by phone with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Bush will confer by phone with more Members as the day continues. White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Joel Kaplan are regularly on the phone with lawmakers, as are other top advisers as part of an all-hands-on-deck effort. National Economic Council Director Keith Hennessey, a former Hill staffer, has been on Capitol Hill this morning along with members of the White House legislative affairs team.

Paulson is also meeting with Members on Capitol Hill.

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