WASHINGTON – Less than an hour before the House takes up the new $700 billion financial bailout bill, President Bush moved to assure Americans that the plan is good for the country.
"I'm confident that this rescue plan along with other measures taken by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve will begin to restore strength and stability to America's financial system and overall economy," Bush said in a four-minute speech Monday morning at the White House. "And I'm confident in that in long run, America will overcome these challenges and remain the most dynamic and productive economy in the world."
Bush urged Congress to pass the bailout bill the leading lawmakers fashioned in marathon weekend bargaining, saying it is needed to "keep the crisis in our financial industry from spreading" across the economy.
Bush argued that jittery U.S. taxpayers will benefit from a number of safeguards that lawmakers wrote into the pending legislation during weekend negotiations on Capitol Hill, including checks and balances on the operation of the program.
The president spoke shortly after two leading players in the Hill bargaining went on television news shows to urge passage, even as both acknowledged the necessity of this action represents a sad day for the nation.
Asked if the compromise bill indeed will go through Congress, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., replied: "We hope so."
But the Connecticut senator, chairman of the Banking Committee, also said the bill is not a panacea for all the problems that have bedeviled the U.S. financial markets. He also said, though, that failure to act would spread the contagion of frozen credit markets even further. "This is not just about Wall Street," Dodd said. He said that it's "potentially going to hurt other people across the country."
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who represented fellow Republicans in the weekend talks, called it a "tourniquet" for the ailing financial industry and slow-moving economy.
The latest assessments of prospects for passage came as investors worldwide and in early trading in the United States continued to show doubt about whether the bill would go through, much less go a long way toward curing the systemic problems that have unnerved financial markets across the globe for weeks.
The House was slated to vote later Monday on the deeply unpopular rescue package for the stressed financial industry. Bush on Sunday conceded this was a difficult vote in an election year — and repeated that sentiment in his statement Monday morning.
But he called a vote for the bill "a vote to prevent economic damage" to communities across the country.
He also said the legislation addresses the root cause of the problem — "assets related to home mortgages that have lost value during the housing decline."
And the president noted that under provisions of the pending bill, "the federal government will be authorized to purchase these assets" and said that will help financial institutions to resume lending to individuals and businesses.
"I know many Americans are worried about the cost of the bill," Bush said. But he also said the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the federal Office of Management and Budget expect that the "ultimate cost to the taxpayer" will be much less.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.