Congressional leaders said after meeting Thursday evening with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that as much as $1 trillion could be needed to avoid an imminent meltdown of the U.S. financial system.
Paulson plans to announce his “comprehensive” plan at 10 a.m. Eastern at the Treasury building, next door to the White House.
Stock markets soared around the world in anticipation of the rescue, with British and Chinese indexes recording their biggest gains ever.
Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” said lawmakers were told last night “that we’re literally maybe days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system, with all the implications, here at home and globally.”
“What you heard last evening is one of those rare moments — certainly rare in my experience here – was that Democrats and Republicans decided we needed to work together, quickly,” Dodd said.
The solution being proposed by the Bush administration is the most expensive bailout in the nation’s history, sharply curtailing the ability of the next president to push for tax cuts or new spending.
Congressional leaders tell Politico that to expedite the rescue, Treasury plans to seek additional authority rather than creating a new entity. The plan involves buying up hundreds of billions of dollars in bad mortgages to take them off the books of financial institutions that otherwise might fail.
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, told “Good Morning America”: “I figure it will be at least half a trillion. But if you look at what the Fed has already done [by rescuing insurance giant AIG], and the extension of power to Treasury to deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, I believe we're talking about a trillion dollars.”
Some Republicans are expressing concerns about writing essentially a blank check to the Bush administration.
“They're lurching from one crisis to another,” Shelby said. “They don't seem to have a superplan to deal with this. … We want to see the plan. This is not a done deal yet. But we know there's crisis, there's stress, in the financial markets that we haven't seen in, say, 70 years.”
Some conservatives are balking even more bluntly.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a member of the Joint Economic Committee, told the Los Angeles Times: “What is missing from it and from the recent string of bailouts is a commitment to return to a free enterprise economy. . . . What we need now is not what could be nearly a trillion dollars in new taxpayer bailouts but pro-growth policies that allow our markets to correct and start growing again.”