Behind Closed Doors, Warnings of Calamity

Gathered in the conference room just off House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s personal suite on the second floor of the Capitol, the Congressional leadership had just received the sobering news Thursday night that America’s economy remained in peril despite a series of sudden interventions by the Federal Reserve.

Then the other shoe dropped. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. told top members of both parties — about to leave Washington to assail one another in a bitter election season — that they had no choice but to pull together and quickly pass legislation providing billions of public dollars to take bad assets off the hands of the nation’s financial institutions.

“Do you know what you are asking me to do?” said Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader who has struggled all year against concerted Republican opposition, according to multiple participants at the Thursday night session. “It takes me 48 hours to get the Republicans to agree to flush the toilets around here.”

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