Bush tells nation the 'entire economy is in danger'

(AP) - President Bush said Wednesday that lawmakersrisk a cascade of wiped-out retirement savings, rising homeforeclosures, lost jobs and closed businesses if they fail to acton a massive financial rescue plan. "Our entire economy is indanger," he said. "Without immediate action by Congress, America could slip intoa financial panic and a distressing scenario would unfold," Bushsaid in a 12-minute prime-time address delivered from the WhiteHouse East Room that he hoped would help rescue his tough-sellbailout package. "Ultimately, our country could experience a longand painful recession." Said Bush: "We must not let this happen." The unprecedented $700 billion bailout, which the Bushadministration asked Congress last weekend to approve before itadjourns, is meeting with deep skepticism, especially fromconservatives in Bush's own Republican Party who are revolting atthe high price tag and massive private-sector intervention bygovernment. Though there is general agreement that something mustbe done to address the spiraling economic problems, Bush has beenforced to accept changes almost daily, based on demands from theright and left. Seeking to explain himself to conservatives, Bush stressed hewas reluctant to put taxpayer money on the line to help businessesthat had made bad decisions and that the rescue is not aimed atsaving individual companies. He tried to address some of the majorcomplaints from Democrats by promising that CEOs of failedcompanies won't be rewarded, while warning he would draw the lineat regulations he determined would hamper economic growth. "With the situation becoming more precarious by the day, Ifaced a choice: to step in with dramatic government action or tostand back and allow the irresponsible actions by some to underminethe financial security of all," Bush said. The president turned himself into an economics professor formuch of the address, tracing the origins of the problem back adecade. But while generally acknowledging risky and poorly thought-outfinancial decisions at many levels of society, Bush never assignedblame to any specific entity, such as his administration, thequasi-independent mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or theWall Street firms that built rising profits on increasinglyspeculative mortgage-backed securities. Instead, he spoke in termsof investment banks that "found themselves saddled with" thetoxic assets the government is now proposing to buy and banks that"found themselves" with questionable balance sheets. Intensive, personal lobbying of lawmakers is not usually Bush'sstyle as president, unlike some predecessors. He does not oftenmake calls or twist arms on behalf of a legislative priority. But with the nation facing the biggest financial meltdown indecades, Bush took the unusual step of asking Democrat Barack Obamaand Republican John McCain, one of whom will inherit the financialmess in four months, and key congressional leaders of both partiesto a White House meeting on Thursday to work on a compromise. Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the senator would attend themeeting scheduled for the afternoon, and senior McCain adviserssaid he would, too. The plans of the other invitees were unknown.The White House said that the idea for the joint meeting wasMcCain's and that aides went about setting it up after Bush andMcCain spoke Wednesday afternoon. In another move welcome at the White House, Obama and McCainissued a joint statement using their own dire language to urgelawmakers to act. The two candidates - bitterly fighting each otherfor the White House but coming together over this issue - said thesituation offers a chance for politicians to prove Washington'sworth. "The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bushadministration is flawed, but the effort to protect the Americaneconomy must not fail," they said. "This is a time to rise abovepolitics for the good of the country. We cannot risk an economiccatastrophe." However, the Oval Office rivals were not putting politics asideentirely. McCain asked Obama to agree to delay their first debate,scheduled for Friday, while Obama said it should go ahead. White House and administration officials have warned repeatedlyin recent days of a coming "financial calamity." But that has not closed the deal, which for many recallsprevious warnings of grave threats from Bush - such as before theIraq war - that did not materialize. So Bush's goal with hisspeech, his first prime-time address in 377 days, was to frame thedebate in layman's terms to show the depths of the crisis, explainhow it affects the people's daily lives and inspire the public todemand action from Washington. He said that more banks could fail, the stock market couldplummet and erase retirement accounts, businesses could find ithard to get credit and be forced to close, wiping out jobs formillions of Americans. He ended on a positive note, predicting lawmakers would "riseto the occasion" and that the nation's economy will overcome "amoment of great challenge." With so many crises hitting the United States at once, thepresidential race has taken a back seat and so has Bush'sinvolvement in politics. Bush canceled a campaign trip to Floridaon Wednesday to deal with the problem, the third time in a weekthat he has scrapped his attendance at out-of-town fundraisers,either because of the market turmoil or Hurricane Ike. The economic crisis also is almost certain to overshadow therest of Bush's four months left in office and could hugely impacthis legacy. It has been assumed that the long-term view of Bush'spresidency was to be shaped largely by Iraq, Hurricane Katrina andthe Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Now, the dire economic problems andthe aftermath of the government's attempted solution will certainlybe added to that list.