WASHINGTON — President Bush told the nation Wednesday that "there is much agreement" among Washington lawmakers on key principles for a massive financial rescue plan as he prepared for White House talks on the crisis with John McCain, Barack Obama and congressional leaders.
"Our economy is facing a moment of great challenge, but we've overcome challenges before, and we will overcome this one," he said.
Bush, who will hold the bipartisan meeting Thursday, made it clear he's edging away from his original $700 billion rescue plan. In a prime-time speech from the White House — his first in a year — Bush had warm words for oversight of government bailouts and potential limits on executive pay at troubled firms, both conditions sought by members of Congress.
"Any rescue plan should also be designed to ensure that taxpayers are protected," Bush said. "It should welcome the participation of financial institutions, large and small.
"It should make certain that failed executives do not receive a windfall from your tax dollars. It should establish a bipartisan board to oversee the plan's implementation."
Areas of disagreement remain, such as whether to approve the entire $700 billion at once and an equity ownership stake for taxpayers in any company that gets bailout aid, so taxpayers would share in future profits.
The president was both somber and optimistic.
He described the financial crisis, which this month has sent markets reeling and has seen the government take over mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and lend American International Group $85 billion in return for a nearly 80 percent stake the failing insurer.
The bailout bill, Bush said, "is not aimed at preserving any individual company or industry. It is aimed at preserving America's overall economy."
His optimism was fueled by history, as he noted that, "in times of real trial, elected officials rise to the occasion."
McCain and Obama tried to join in that spirit, issuing a joint statement vowing to work together.
"The American people are facing a moment of economic crisis. No matter how this began, we all have a responsibility to work through it and restore confidence in our economy. The jobs, savings, and prosperity of the American people are at stake," they said.
"Now is a time to come together — Democrats and Republicans — in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people."
Bush's speech was meant to give a boost to delicate negotiations between top congressional lawmakers, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Bush's involvement carried some political risk. Members of Congress hadn't been eager for him to get involved, fearing he'd become a polarizing figure, someone Republicans would be reluctant to oppose publicly, while Democrats painted him as a villain.
At one point shortly after the financial crisis erupted on Sept. 16, Bush had been ready to make a statement, but decided to remain mum. About a week ago, he began talking about the turmoil, but generally only briefly, and has let Paulson and Bernanke take the lead on trying to fashion a rescue package.
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