By Olivier Knox
Washington: Warning “our entire economy is in danger,” US President George W. Bush on Wednesday called unprecedented crisis talks with White House rivals John McCain and Barack Obama and congressional leaders.
Bush announced the Thursday summit in a prime-time televised speech seeking public support for his $700 billion Wall Street rescue plan and to pile pressure on angry lawmakers who declared the shock proposal dead on arrival.
“Without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic,” the vastly unpopular US president said in his 13-minute speech. “Ultimately, our country could experience a long and painful recession.”
Six weeks before US elections, four months before he hands the battered US economy to a new steward, Bush said inaction could wipe out banks, threaten retirement nest eggs, send home values into freefall and foreclosures skyrocketing, and create millions of new jobless.
The White House said Bush had invited Obama in a personal telephone call 90 minutes before his speech. The Democrat’s chief spokesman, Bill Burton, confirmed in a statement that the Illinois senator would attend.
Obama has worked all week with top lawmakers, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke and “will continue to work in a bipartisan spirit and do whatever is necessary to come up with a final solution,” said Burton.
Opinion polls show the US public is angry at Wall Street but deeply divided about a remedy, with many ready to blame Bush and his Republican party, which itself has fissured over the plan amid fierce objections from conservatives.
They have expressed dismay over the massive government involvement in the economy, while Bush’s Democratic foes have pushed for more government oversight and stronger consumer protections, and both sides have balked at the price tag.
Speaking to his angry allies, Bush explained: “I faced a choice, to step in with dramatic government action or to stand back and allow the irresponsible actions of some to undermine the financial security of all.”
Addressing suspicious Democrats, he promised that the plan must ensure that reckless executives do not reap a “windfall” from taxpayer funds.
But lawmakers “must ensure that efforts to regulate Wall Street do not end up hampering our economy’s ability to grow,” he warned.
It was not clear how much impact what is arguably the president’s most potent political weapons -- the ability to command national attention -- would have with just four months left in his term.
But public remarks from all sides suggested that Bush could count on a consensus that inaction could trigger a global financial meltdown.
“Now is a time to come together - Democrats and Republicans - in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people,” McCain and Obama said in an unusual joint statement.
“The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bush administration is flawed, but the effort to protect the American economy must not fail,” they said.