WASHINGTON - With his financial rescue plan a tough sell on Capitol Hill, President Bush said "our entire economy is in danger" in a prime-time address Wednesday.
He warned of a "long and painful recession" if Congress fails to act on the financial crisis. Speaking in dire terms, Mr. Bush pushed for a $700 billion government rescue plan during the televised address to the nation. His move Wednesday was aimed at explaining the package to the American public, but also to keep pressure on frustrated and angry lawmakers to work out a bipartisan deal fast.
The president said the goal is to help the government buy up troubled assets so that credit can start flowing again and the economy will rebound. He said the rescue is aimed at helping the country, not individual companies. The president last gave a prime-time address to the nation 377 days ago, on Iraq. This one could be the last of his presidency.
Before the speech, Mr. Bush invited the two senators running for president, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, as well as Congressional leaders to the White House tomorrow to work on driving to a bipartisan and timely solution. The president called Obama around 7:30 pm on Wednesday.
“A few moments ago, President Bush called Senator Obama and asked him to attend a meeting in Washington tomorrow, which he agreed to do," Obama-Biden spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement. "Senator Obama has been working all week with leaders in Congress, Secretary Paulson, and Chairman Bernanke to improve this proposal, and he has said that he will continue to work in a bipartisan spirit and do whatever is necessary to come up with a final solution."
The meltdown among several financial institutions and intense negotiations with Congress over the administration's requested $700 billion bailout package led the president to return to Washington early from a three-day whirl of international meetings in New York. He also canceled plans to spend the afternoon in Florida raising campaign cash for Republicans.
The package is meeting with deep skepticism on Capitol Hill, especially from conservatives in Bush's own party revolting at the high price tag and unprecedented private-sector intervention. Though there is general agreement that something must be done, the administration has made big concessions almost daily based on demands from the right and left. The timing and even the size of the package remained in doubt.
White House and administration officials have warned repeatedly of what Perino on Wednesday called the risk of "financial calamity."
But that has not closed the deal, which for many recalls previous warnings of grave threats from Bush - such as before the Iraq war - that did not materialize. So Bush's goal with his speech was to frame the debate in layman's terms to show the depths of the crisis, explain how it affects the people's daily lives and inspire the public to demand action from Washington. He was not expected to dwell much on the question of blame.