Friday, September 26, 2008

No Deal

Negotiations between the White House and the Congress collapsed after they apparently reached a deal to end the financial crisis on Wall Street.

When Congressional leaders and Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, the two major party presidential candidates, trooped to the White House on Thursday afternoon, most signs pointed toward a bipartisan agreement on a grand compromise that could be accepted by all sides and signed into law by the weekend. It was intended to pump billions of dollars into the financial system, restoring liquidity and keeping credit flowing to businesses and consumers.

“We’re in a serious economic crisis,” Mr. Bush told reporters as the meeting began shortly before 4 p.m. in the Cabinet Room, adding, “My hope is we can reach an agreement very shortly.”

But once the doors closed, the smooth-talking House Republican leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, surprised many in the room by declaring that his caucus could not support the plan to allow the government to buy distressed mortgage assets from ailing financial companies.

Mr. Boehner pressed an alternative that involved a smaller role for the government, and Mr. McCain, whose support of the deal is critical if fellow Republicans are to sign on, declined to take a stand.

The talks broke up in angry recriminations, according to accounts provided by a participant and others who were briefed on the session, and were followed by dueling news conferences and interviews rife with partisan finger-pointing.

In the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, not to “blow it up” by withdrawing her party’s support for the package over what Ms. Pelosi derided as a Republican betrayal.

“I didn’t know you were Catholic,” Ms. Pelosi said, a wry reference to Mr. Paulson’s kneeling, according to someone who observed the exchange. She went on: “It’s not me blowing this up, it’s the Republicans.”

Mr. Paulson sighed. “I know. I know.”

The main sticking point within the Republican caucus seemed to be a lack of agreement on how to blame this whole thing on the Democrats.