House GOP Holds Out For More Say In Bailout Plan

In Depth

Congress and the White House are trying to come up with a plan to pull the nation's financial markets from the abyss. Talks on the proposed $700 billion bailout fell apart Thursday when House Republicans revolted over news that a deal had been struck when they weren't on board. They returned to the bargaining table Friday.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, the pinnacle of pizza making. But first, a frantic week on Capitol Hill as Congress and the White House try to come up with a plan to pull the nation's financial markets back from the abyss with a $700 billion bailout. Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that while some issues remain unresolved, there's been significant progress at the bargaining table. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Congressional staffers are working around the clock to come to terms that everyone can live with. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledges that's no easy task.

NANCY PELOSI: It's hard for members on both sides of the aisle to support an initiative that they just recently learned of that is very unpopular among the American people in terms of what their first look at it and that need - we need to communicate more directly with them as to why it is important to them.

ELLIOTT: Lawmakers have been fielding angry calls and emails from constituents back home who don't want their tax dollars used to bail out Wall Street. The administration proposes that the Treasury buy bad debt to save financial institutions. House Republicans have called for less government intervention, but Minority Leader John Boehner says GOP members are not out to derail the plan.

JOHN BOEHNER: I believe and my colleagues believe that America is on the edge of an economic crisis. We believe that Congress needs to act, and we need to act quickly. But thirdly, we need to act quickly and protect the American taxpayer first and foremost. And that's what this fight has been about.

ELLIOTT: They put forth a list of market-based proposals, including a cut in the capital gains tax to spur private investment and a federally backed mortgage insurance program. Minority Whip Roy Blunt is the lead negotiator for House Republicans. He says if Democrats want their help in passing a bailout, the GOP proposals have to be part of the dialogue.

ROY BLUNT: Clearly, the Democrats have a majority in both houses of the Congress. If they want to do this by themselves, they can do this by themselves any minute they want to.

BARNEY FRANK: That would be a grave mistake.

ELLIOTT: House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, a lead Democratic negotiator, says the bailout cannot become a political football.

FRANK: This is a very serious policy step that the American government is taking. It's a fundamental shift in many ways about the relationship between the public sector and the private sector, although we hope it'll be temporary. It depends for its success on the restoration of confidence in part. If this were presented in a partisan way, if one of the political parties in either of the houses looked like they were saying no, if one of the presidential candidates appeared to be kind of trying to undercut it, not only will it become hard to pass, it makes it hard to work.

ELLIOTT: Despite the setbacks this week, Frank hopes an agreement can be reached by the end of the weekend. House conservatives aren't so sure. Georgia Republican Phil Gingrey.

PHIL GINGREY: We don't really feel like there's a gun held to our head that we absolutely have to have a drop-dead time to get this accomplished. Certainly, everybody would like to do that by Sunday evening, but we're not going to sign onto anything that's a bad bill that would just hurt the American people more.

ELLIOTT: Speaker Pelosi says she remains committed to a bipartisan deal and says lawmakers will be in session as long as it takes because the markets need a message from Congress. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, the Capitol.

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