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Negotiations Delay Final Agreement on US Bailout Plan

After meeting with President Bush at the White House, congressional leaders say a final agreement on a $700 billion financial system bailout plan has not been achieved. Lawmakers say they are closer to an agreement on key principles, but House Republicans are withholding support on some issues, and negotiations continue. VOA's Dan Robinson is on Capitol Hill.

Emerging from the White House meeting, Senate Banking Committee ranking Republican Senator Richard Shelby said no agreement has been struck. "We have not got an agreement, there are still a lot of different opinions," he said.

Shelby had been saying that all day in various media interviews, even as remarks by some lawmakers seemed to point in the direction of an agreement.

Earlier, Committee Chairman, Senator Chris Dodd had referred to fundamental agreement on a set of principles, including issues such as effective oversight, preserving home ownership, and limits on executive compensation.

Clarifying in a late Thursday news conference, Dodd said no decisions were made. Describing the White House meeting as a distraction from the urgent work at hand, he said lawmakers will get back on track:

"This is a problem that has gone far beyond lower Manhattan (Wall Street) this problems is now the contagion is being felt all across the country, with the credit markets seizing up we don't have the luxury of waiting a long time to debate and discuss all of this but we need to get it right and we're determined to spend the time to do that," Dodd said.

House Republicans have voiced displeasure with various aspects of draft legislation, and proposed alternatives. Minority leader, Representative John Boehner spoke earlier Thursday. "Concern remains over the plan as presented by the Secretary of the Treasury. And so there have been ideas kicked around and discussed about how that might be modified, but there are no decisions yet," he said.

But in a separate late Thursday news conference, House financial services chairman Barney Frank expressed puzzlement over House Republican objections.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Republican concerns could be worked into the legislation, but should not delay an agreement which she said lawmakers are working to complete expeditiously.

"If it is something that can be included in the bill in terms of the authority that can be given to the [Treasury] Secretary, I would hope that could be worked out. If it is contradictory to the purposes of the legislation then that is up to the Secretary to decide," he said.

Democrats have been particularly harsh in criticizing Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain, who with his Democratic rival Barack Obama attended the White House meeting.

"I'm saying again, we don't need presidential politics involved in this. John McCain hasn't voted in the Senate since some time last April and I say very sincerely, he has done nothing since he has been the last few hours to help this process," said Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

Democrats have also ridiculed McCain's call for a postponement of Friday's first presidential debate in Mississippi, with House financial services chairman Barney Frank saying there is absolutely no reason for anyone to use the financial crisis to avoid debate.

President Bush used a televised address Wednesday to urge Americans to support the proposed $700 billion bailout plan, under which the government would purchase de-valued mortgage-based assets held by investment firms and banks threatened with collapse.

Lawmakers from both major parties have received a flood of messages from constituents, most of them critical of the Bush administration proposal.

Democratic leaders say they are prepared to keep Congress in session until they achieve an agreement that will satisfy Americans and ensure they will not suffer further economic harm from the financial crisis.