'Great progress' on US financial plan

United States Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and leading lawmakers early on Sunday reported “great progress toward” reaching a multibillion-dollar Wall Street bail-out plan before markets reopen after the weekend, saying the accord would likely be finalised later in the day.

“We’ve been working very hard on this,” Paulson told an early morning news conference. “And we’ve made great progress toward a deal, which will work and will be effective in the marketplace, and, you know, effective for all Americans.”

But lawmakers taking part in the negotiations cautioned the deal still had to be committed “to paper”, and congressional staff members were expected to work through the night to finalise the accord.

“We have made great progress,” said Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, echoing Paulson’s assessment. “We have to get it—commit it to paper, so that we can complete—formally agree.”

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said there had been what he called a “breakthrough”, which he attributed to efforts by Pelosi, and a formal announcement of the deal should be expected late on Sunday.

US lawmakers have struggled to reach agreement on the $700-billion original plan put forward more than a week ago by Paulson, who was criticised for failing to provide enough oversight.

The Paulson plan calls for the government to use tax dollars to buy up bad loans, including mortgages, and hang on to them, to provide greater liquidity for financial institutions.

But rebel Republicans instead drafted an alternative plan, calling for an expanded insurance system financed by banks to rescue individual home mortgages, so that taxpayers do not have to fund the bail-out.

Media reports indicated the $700-billion request could end up being cut by as much as half, with the rest subject to congressional approval at a later date.

The proposed bail-out, first rushed to Capitol Hill by Paulson as a three-page proposal, has now ballooned into a document of more than 100 pages, CNN reported.

Calming the wrath
President George Bush sought to calm the wrath of many Americans who view the bail-out as a huge handout for private companies while leaving ordinary people in the lurch.

“I know many of you listening ...
are frustrated with the situation,” the president said on Saturday in his weekly radio address.

“You make sacrifices every day to meet your mortgage payments and keep up with your bills. When the government asks you to pay for mistakes on Wall Street, it does not seem fair.”

But the president, whose popularity levels have sunk to record lows, said there was no other way to redress the world’s largest economy, and promised the final price tag would be less than $700-billion.

“The failure of the financial system would mean financial hardship for many of you,” Bush said, warning an increasing credit squeeze would make it hard for people to borrow money.

“The result would be less economic growth and more American jobs lost. And that would put our economy on the path toward a deep and painful recession.”

However, Democrats and Republicans have expressed disquiet that so much taxpayers’ money will go to private companies, blamed by many for triggering the meltdown.

But Bush vowed in his weekly address that over time the value of the acquired assets would rise again.

“This means that the government will be able to recoup much, if not all, of the original expenditure,” he said.

Republican White House hopeful John McCain flew straight back to Washington after Friday’s first presidential debate with rival Democrat Barack Obama to join the search for a deal by working the telephones.

The two presidential nominees clashed sharply on their opposing plans for saving the economy in their debate in Oxford, Mississippi. But both dodged questions on whether they would support the bail-out or scale back planned initiatives due to the strain on the US budget.

With the world’s largest economy in a tailspin, other governments are nervously watching the talks, concerned their economies could fall victim to any contagion.

International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said in an interview to be published on Sunday that the world body needed to tighten its control over financial markets.—AFP

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