ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf Reports: After a week of roller coaster political wrangling, principal negotiators from both parties and houses of Congress met in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on Saturday to hash out a final deal on a sweeping plan to rescue the nation’s economy.
Pelosi left the negotiators alone in her office and walked elsewhere in the Capitol, but told reporters that she expects a deal tonight, with votes to come early next week.
“We are going to make decisions, hopefully this evening, so that we can put something on the Internet tomorrow for the American people to look at,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi also commented on Republicans decision not to attend negotiations earlier in the week, saying, “It was unpatriotic for them to not even show up.”
Meantime, few details were few coming out of the room. ABC News’ Jake Tapper reported that the blackberries of staffers were seized and put in a trashcan to cut down on leaks.
Earlier in the day, after Senate Republicans met to discuss their priorities, the party’s negotiator, Sen. Judd Gregg compared the financial crisis to a horrible accident on an eight-lane highway, saying the country’s credit and capitol is jammed like traffic behind the accident.
Gregg said it is essential that the government clear the accident to get the traffic moving again and pledged that negotiators would meet tonight until a deal was reached.
The negotiators are expected to leave intact the core aim of using up to $700 billion in taxpayer dollars to clear the balance sheets of banks and financial institutions hobbled by mortgage backed securities devalued by the foreclosure crisis and housing slump.
Earlier this week, House Republicans seemed primed to abandon the plan rather than face constituents angry at the appearance of the government using taxpayer dollars to bail out struggling firms on Wall Street. They offered a competing proposal Thursday night to scrap Paulson’s troubled asset purchase program and exchange it with a government backed insurance program, charging firms premiums to insure their bad assets.
That model would have avoided using taxpayer dollars, but couldn’t be implemented quickly enough and had less of a chance of working, according to critics, including senators, House Democrats, and Paulson.
But staffers from all sides worked well into the night Friday to find a proposal that would satisfy House Republicans and Paulson, who expressed concerns that the more complicated and punitive toward Wall Street the plan got, the more it would frighten off potential participants.
Congressional staffers worked until 3 am on Saturday morning to find middle ground on changes to a proposal first presented last weekend by the Bush administration.
It is unclear what will ultimately be included in the deal or how the skittish House Republicans can be allayed, but all the lawmakers are keen to limit executive compensation for executives at firms who have their bad debt purchased, install oversight of the program with an inspector general, and allow taxpayers to recoup some profits at the firms helped by the program.
Staffers said the issue closest to resolution was the idea in Congress to enable he government to recoup stock.