Congress Closes In On Bailout Compromise

House and Senate leaders gathered behind closed doors Saturday in an attempt to iron out details of a $700 billion bailout for the financial services industry.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

As Scott just said, John McCain zipped back to the Washington area today, where Congress and the Bush administration are still trying to iron out details of that 700 billion dollar bailout for the financial industry. Congressional staffers worked into the wee hours this morning, and now, their bosses are at it, along with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. NPR's Brian Naylor is following the story on Capitol Hill today, and, Brian, just where are the negotiations now?

BRIAN NAYLOR: Well, they're now in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office literally, Andrea. They - lawmakers went in there midafternoon today, along with Treasury Secretary Paulson. Democrats say they're optimistic maybe a deal can be cut by tomorrow evening, maybe even sooner. Now, here's what Speaker Pelosi said this afternoon.

House Speaker NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): I feel quite sure that the meeting that is taking place now in my office will take us closer to legislation. It would be my hope that this could be resolved today, that we'd have a day for the American people and members of Congress to review the legislation on the Internet, and that we could bring something to the floor possibly Sunday night or Monday morning.

NAYLOR: And if that sounds like a rush, Andrea, it is. Lawmakers say it's important that a deal be reached by Sunday night because they want to assure the Asian markets, which open for the week Sunday night, our time, that Washington has agreed to the bailout, even though it hasn't been enacted yet.

SEABROOK: Brian, one of the groups important in negotiations are the Republicans in the House. Are they on board with this timetable?

NAYLOR: Well, you know, it's very funny. There's a split in the Republicans. The Senate Republicans, absolutely, Senator Judd Gregg said he expected today's meeting to last until there was a deal. House Republicans, though, are a lot more cautious. They've been the toughest negotiators, some might say hold outs on the deal. Here's Florida Republican Adam Putnam.

Representative ADAM PUTNAM (Republican, Florida): We want to make sure that not only is it effective for the taxpayer, but it is a clean bill that does not have special interest demands attached to it simply because it appears to be the last train leaving the Congress for this month.

SEABROOK: So, Brian, what are the sticking points in negotiations right now?

NAYLOR: The biggest issues, Andrea, unresolved is the question of what they call on the Hill here bankruptcy, and that's whether bankruptcy court judges should be given powers to renegotiate mortgages for homeowners at risk of foreclosure. Most of the other details of the 700 billion dollar bailout are pretty much agreed to.

The question is how much do House Republicans get? They've been pushing for this insurance plan that will allow the government to sell insurance to these banks. Democrats say, well, the banks don't have any money, that's why we're in this crisis. The question is whether some modified version of that might be included in the final package.

SEABROOK: Quickly, Brian, I understand Congress actually did something else today, something other than the bailout.

NAYLOR: It's a busy weekend, you know. Normally, this would be maybe the lead. They passed a 630 billion dollar spending bill to fund government operations until next spring. It's money for the Pentagon, disaster aid, heating assistance. It ends the offshore drilling moratorium. It gives the auto industry 25 billion worth of guaranteed loans, and the House also approved an agreement that would allow the U.S. to sell nuclear materials to India. The fate of that in the Senate is unclear.

SEABROOK: Big weekend on Capitol Hill. NPR's Brian Naylor, thanks very much, Brian.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Andrea.

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