Bush Asks Congress For Banking Funds

President Bush has requested that Congress release $350 billion to aid the financial industry. The money is the second half of the financial sector's $700 billion bailout fund. President Bush acted after President-elect Barack Obama asked him to request the funds.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

President Bush is asking Congress to release money from the big financial bailout - more money. Let's review what's going on here. $700 billion were included in the bailout of financial institutions which Congress approved last fall. However, the administration was only permitted to spend the first half, about $350 billion, before it came back to Congress for permission to spend more. So far, the White House has not asked for that permission. Now, it has taken that step.

NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea is covering the story. He's with us live. Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA: Hi. Good morning.

INSKEEP: Wasn't the administration trying to save that money for Barack Obama to spend?

GONYEA: Well, they were. In fact, the president held what we think would be his final news conference of his presidency this morning. We got very short notice on it this morning. Question number one, of course, what about the additional TARP funds? And his response was that Barack Obama, the president-elect, had not yet asked him to ask Congress to release it.

So we really - it was really the first moment where we saw this sitting president deferring to the incoming president. And the sense was they were leaving it for him, but clearly, because we've now heard from the transition - the president-elect's transition team that he has made the formal request of the president to please release the money.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

GONYEA: The Obama team feels they need it in place now so they can move immediately when he takes the oath.

INSKEEP: Just so we understand the order of this, let's listen to the presidential news conference from just a couple of hours ago earlier this morning. This is what President Bush said about Obama asking him for that $350 billion.

(Soundbite of news conference)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I told him that if he felt that he needed the $350 billion, I would be willing to ask for it, in other words, if he felt like it needed to happen on my watch.

INSKEEP: And so now, the request has been made from the president in waiting to the president of the moment. The president of the moment then goes to Congress and asks for the money. I suppose this doesn't necessarily mean - does it, Don - that President Bush will have time to spend it. Maybe it will end up being President Barack Obama who spends it, maybe on his first day in office?

GONYEA: Well, it sounds like that is the president's posture. Of course, we'll have to wait and see if it plays out that way. But it's going to take, you know, some time for the clearance to go through the Congress, and here we are one week and one day from Mr. Obama taking the oath. And, of course, we have the Martin Luther King holiday in there in the weekend.

So there's not a lot of time for President Bush to do anything with it. But it does really sound like - and again, it was a strange feeling to be sitting there, to see this man who's always described himself as the decider saying, well, I just haven't heard from President-elect Obama yet to have him tell me what he wants me to do.

INSKEEP: Well, Don Gonyea, I want to ask you about that final news conference and - what was described, anyway, as the final news conference for this president. People were watching this closely. They said that the news was that the president admitted a couple of mistakes in the way that he dealt with the so-called mission accomplished after Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. That was the news. But you're sitting there, Don, and you're somebody that has been at these news conferences for eight years covering this president. What struck you?

GONYEA: Well, he was certainly, you know, at turns kind of affable and nostalgic, and geez, Steve, he even thanked us in the press corps for the job we've done over the past eight years, which is not something, you know, you would necessarily expect.

But he was very combative still on key points. He aggressively denied that the U.S's standing has been damaged overseas by - or around the world - its moral standing by the Iraq war, by Abu Ghraib, by enhanced interrogation techniques and waterboarding. And on Katrina, he acted as though the main problem with federal response to the hurricane was his decision not to land Air Force One in Baton Rouge or New Orleans.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. This is NPR News.

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