The White House and the U.S. Congress are inching closer to a financial rescue deal, but no final agreement is in hand. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports President Bush met Thursday with the two major party presidential candidates and Congressional leaders and pushed for action on his $700 billion proposal.
The president says there is no time to waste. "We are in a serious economic crisis in the country if we don't pass a piece of legislation," he said.
Mr. Bush says quick action is needed, and stresses he called the meeting in an effort to move the process forward. "My hope is that we can reach an agreement very shortly," he said.
It was an unprecedented session at the White House in an unusual election year full of twists and turns.
The president shared a large oval table with Congressional leaders and the two men who want his job - Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.
Mr. Bush called on all sides to work together to get the rescue package through the legislature. "One thing the American people have to know is that all of us around the table take this issue very seriously and we know we've got to get something done as quickly as possible."
Lawmakers who have been leading the effort to draft the necessary legislation say there is agreement in principle. But some fiscal conservatives in the president's own Republican Party are balking at the thought of an unprecedented taxpayer-funded bail-out of private financial institutions.
One of the most high-profile opponents of the plan is Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee. As he emerged from the meeting with the president, he made clear there is no final deal yet. "I can tell you, I don't believe we have an agreement. I have voiced my concerns all along," he said.
None of the other participants in the meeting with the president spoke as they left the White House. Aides said they needed to get back to the Capitol as quickly as possible to resume negotiations.
But within a matter of hours, Senators Obama and McCain each appeared on all the major television news programs in the United States.
During an interview with ABC, Senator McCain - who originally suggested the White House meeting - said he felt it was important to bring all sides together. "We have talked about this issue and have no doubt about the crisis we are facing. We are talking about jobs, we are talking about loans. We are talking about ability of small businesses to stay in operation," he said.
But Senator Obama told CBS that bringing in the presidential candidates in such a visible fashion could further politicize an already delicate set of negotiations. "My preference is to use the phone and to talk to people and work with them - including Secretary Paulson, Chairman Bernanke and others - in a way that is not a photo-op because I think sometimes that prevents things from getting done. It is amazing what you can get done when you are not looking for credit for it," he said.
The two candidates are slated to hold their first debate Friday evening in Mississippi. On Wednesday, Senator McCain called for a postponement. But now he says he hopes a way can be found for the debate to go on as scheduled.