Anger, fear and deadlock mark Wall Street bailout meeting at White House

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Washington, Sept.27 : It was supposed to be the meeting that solved everything, but even US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson couldn't clinch the deal.

According to The Times, the meeting in the Cabinet Room in the White House was marked with anger, fear and finally culminated in a deadlock with neither the Republicans nor the Democrats agreeing to budge from their stated positions.

The Cabinet Room has seen some tense moments since President Franklin Roosevelt rebuilt it during the renovation of the West Wing in 1934. John Kennedy spent long hours there during the Cuban missile crisis as the world seemed to be hurtling towards nuclear war.

President Bush convened his first Cabinet meeting in the white-stuccoed room after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, beneath the sombre gaze of busts of Jefferson and Franklin.

Thursday's high-stakes gathering was both remarkable and contentious, claims the paper.

It was supposed to be not much more than a photo opportunity, a demonstration of national unity in the face of economic crisis.

There, for the first time in anyone's memory, the incumbent President was meeting the two candidates battling to succeed him, together with the entire leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The aim was to conclude the week-long deliberations over the plan announced by Paulson, for a 0 billion bailout of the nation's banks and to get legislation through Congress by the weekend.

When the photographers were ushered out, Bush spelt out what was at stake. According to senior advisers, he told the assembled leaders that it was not just the US financial system that was in peril. He made it clear that the entire architecture of the global economy was at stake.

The US's financial credibility was in jeopardy. If a deal were not concluded to back the bailout, there was a chance that global investors, including central banks around the world, would lose faith and begin selling their huge holdings of US government debt. That would send US interest rates through the roof and produce a Latin American-style run on the dollar. When Bush concluded his dire prognosis, there were general murmurs of support. Democrats around the long mahogany table, led by Barack Obama, the party's presidential candidate, concurred with the general assessment.

But as the meeting seemed to be moving swiftly towards a sombre consensus, there was a bombshell.

John Boehner, the 58-year-old leader of the House Republicans, denounced the Paulson plan.

He told the gathering that he and his colleagues could not support the plan and produced one of their own.

The plan was an odd mix of half-baked proposals to deal with the financial crisis and the usual Republican menu of tax cuts.

A Republican involved in the negotiations told The Times: "It was not a serious plan. It was irresponsible and unhelpful and driven more by politics than by a desire to solve the financial crisis." Paulson politely explained that its main idea was unworkable. But as the temperature in the room rose sharply, Boehner pressed on, backed by his colleague, Richard Shelby, the leading Republican on the Senate Banking Committee. As voices rose in anger, Barney Frank, the Democratic chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, asked him angrily why he had not spelt out his plan earlier. As the meeting seemed to be breaking up in disarray, the focus of administration turned to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker.

Pelosi opted not to take the political risk of passing a potentially unpopular measure with only Democratic support, leaving Republicans free to attack her and her colleagues in the campaign for congressional elections to be held in little over a month.

An agitated Bush said: "If money isn't loosened up, this sucker could go down."

Sitting almost completely silent throughout was John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate.

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