WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders emerged from a caucus meeting Friday pledging to work with Democrats to stabilize the economy, but insisted any plan would have to better inoculate the taxpayer.
House Minority Leader John Boehner said existing protections proposed by the Bush administration and Democrats do not go far enough.
"We need to act quickly and protect the American taxpayer first and foremost," he said in a press conference.
But, like virtually every other lawmaker, Rep. Boehner remained vague on what changes he was seeking.
"I won't negotiate in public," he said.
He said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt would meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers later today to attempt to reach an agreement.
He added that Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., has spent the past 36 hours working with colleagues on principles that the House GOP can support. "We're trying to make sure we do the right thing for our country while protecting people's taxes," Rep. Boehner said. "I am hoping that we will make progress, but we will not agree to a bill that sells taxpayers out and bailout Wall Street."
The comments underscored a still uncertain situation on Capitol Hill. Multiple lawmakers are holding press conferences during the day, variously pledging a deal was close or reachable by this weekend.
But not everyone was on aboard. One Democrat was attempting to foster rebellion to the plan on his side of the aisle.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., said he planned to convene a group of Democrats against the bailout plan later in the day. Though he professed respect for Democratic leaders attempting to push the plan through, he said most rank-and-file members do not want to support the package.
"In their heart of hearts, most of them" are against it, he told reporters.
It was unclear how many Democrats agree with Rep. Sherman. Many have kept a low profile and an organizational meeting Monday for Democrats opposed to the plan drew only nine members.
The situation appears more concrete on the Senate side. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd held a press conference in the morning saying a bill was within reach. But they also said House Republicans needed to develop a coherent position.
"Who am I negotiating with and what am I negotiating about?" Sen. Dodd told reporters. "If there is a House Republican plan, an administration plan, and a Senate Republican plan, how do I resolve that? It seems to me they need to decide what it is they want to talk about."
On Thursday, Sen. Richard Shelby, the Banking Committee's top Republican, issued a detail-free statement asking the Federal Reserve Board to expand existing lending facilities to maximize access to liquidity.
But other Senate Republicans appear on board with the bailout bill, which is being pushed by President Bush.
"I am more optimistic than ever that we are going to have a deal that will work for the American people," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who had participated in negotiations early Thursday.
Sen. Corker, who sits on the Senate Banking Committee, said he thought House Republicans were warming to an agreement.
"I think they're getting a lot more comfortable with it. I think there was a lot of miscommunication yesterday," he said.
Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., agreed.
"Things are going well," he said.
Most lawmakers are still working off of a draft of principles agreed to on Thursday. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank and Sen. Dodd earlier drafted a 102-page bill that would create a facility to buy up troubled assets from banks and other financial institutions.
The draft, which was obtained by American Banker, includes provisions that hold Treasury accountable for the program, require it to take equity stakes in firms using the program, limit their compensation, and conduct loan modifications on mortgage assets under its control.