By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON — The status of a rescue plan for the nation’s financial system was in doubt, at least for the moment, on Thursday as lawmakers emerged from a White House meeting with President Bush to say that negotiations have a ways to go.
“My hope is that we can get a deal,” said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, hours after House and Senate negotiators had announced that an accord was at hand. It had also been President Bush’s hope that an agreement could be announced after the late-afternoon meeting.
Looking tired and annoyed, Mr. Dodd complained that late complications were making the episode sound more like “a rescue plan for John McCain,” the Republican presidential candidate, than one for the country’s financial system.
It does no good, Mr. Dodd said, “to be distracted for two or three hours by political theater.”
The senator was apparently alluding to a growing revolt by conservative House Republicans against the proposed $700 billion rescue, and the fact that Senator McCain has not yet endorsed the plan, whose concept runs contrary to the policy positions he has taken for years.
Mr. McCain and his Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama, left the White House by a side entrance without commenting. The silence of the presidential candidates reinforced the impression that thorny issues still need to be addressed before an accord is achieved.
That impression was only reinforced by Mr. Dodd’s comments. After saying he still hoped for a deal, the senator said it was important to take “whatever time it takes” to arrive at a good arrangement, since the effects will be felt for “years and years to come.”
It has become abundantly clear, that members of Congress are hearing from their constituents, many of whom are furious about the proposed rescue.
Earlier Thursday, House and Senate negotiators said they had reached a deal on a $700 billion rescue for the nation’s financial system, authorizing unprecedented government intervention to buy distressed debt from private firms in a move to prevent what President Bush warned could be a widespread economic collapse.
Emerging from a nearly three-hour meeting in the Capitol, Republicans and Democrats said earlier Thursday that the legislation would include limits on the pay packages for executives of some firms that seek assistance and a mechanism for the government to take an equity stake in some of the firms, so taxpayers have a chance to profit if the bailout plan works.
The announcement that lawmakers had reached an accord came on a day of high political theater at the Capitol and at the White House — in a drama whose ending may be quite unpredictable, it seemed after the late-afternoon White House meeting broke up.
“We’re in a serious economic crisis,” Mr. Bush told reporters as the meeting began, shortly before 4 p.m. in the Cabinet Room of the White House, adding, “This meeting is an attempt to move the process forward. My hope is we can reach an agreement very shortly.”
Mr. McCain was seated at one end of a long conference table, Mr. Obama at the other, with the president and congressional leaders between them. Neither spoke, though Mr. McCain smiled broadly as reporters shouted questions that went unanswered by Mr. Bush.
Mr. McCain threw a kink into talks on the rescue package on Wednesday, announcing that he would suspend his campaign and return to Washington to forge a deal that he said the Bush administration could not broker on its own. That set Congressional Democrats in high gear to put a deal in place before Mr. McCain could claim any credit.
At one point in the talks, Mr. Obama telephoned Mr. Dodd while the negotiating session was under way. Mr. Dodd passed the telephone to several participants.
“I now expect we will indeed have a plan that can pass the House, pass the Senate, be signed by the president, and bring a sense of certainty to this crisis that is still roiling in the markets,” said Robert Bennett, Republican of Utah. “That is our primary responsibility and I think we our now prepared to meet it.”
And Mr. Bennett, one of the senior members of the banking committee, made a point of describing the meeting as free of political maneuvering. “We focused on solving the problem, rather than posturing politically and it was one of the most productive sessions in that regard that I have participated in since I have been in the Senate,” Mr. Bennett said.
Republicans, including the White House and leaders of the House and Senate, scrambled for the rest of the afternoon to insist that word of an agreement was premature. "It’s good that progress is being made," said Tony Fratto, the deputy White House press secretary. "We’ll want to hear from the Congressional leaders and Secretary Paulson and take a look at the details. We look forward to a good discussion at the meeting this afternoon."
But lawmakers who participated in the detailed talks said that few substantive differences and no major obstacles remained.
They said the bill would authorize the full $700 billion requested by President Bush, but that Congress was intent on disbursing the money in installments.
In a brief speech on the Senate floor, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said he expected to be in session on Saturday for the first procedural votes on the bailout plan, in which the government plans to buy distressed debt from financial firms and stave off what President Bush warned could be a widespread economic collapse.
Mr. Bush, in a prime-time televised speech on Wednesday night, appealed to the nation — and to reluctant lawmakers — to support the plan.
After the address, the drafting effort continued through the night on both sides of Capitol Hill — with pizza on the House side, and Thai food in the Senate. (Negotiations between the House and the Senate can be nearly as complicated as negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.)
But even as Congressional leaders shook hands on an agreement, House Republicans warned that opposition was building.
Conservative Republicans, in particular, have said that such a huge government intervention violated their free market principles.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has made clear that she does not want to approve the bailout plan without rank-and-file Republican support.
A group of Republicans, led by Representative Eric Cantor, a House leader, were circulating an alternative plan that would rely on mortgage insurance, provided by the government, rather than taxpayer purchase of frozen mortgage assets.
A senior Republican lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to undermine the party leadership, said there is a ‘’violent reaction” among House Republicans to the Paulson plan. He said backers of the alternative, one of several that have been proposed in the House, are calculating that they can force the negotiators to accept it as part of a larger deal.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting