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Financial markets, which have fallen sharply earlier this week, were in a waiting mode, with the Dow Jones Index of leading stocks up a modest 42 points in early afternoon trading.

Rep. Baron Hill, Indiana Democrat, told Mr. Bernanke he had received hundreds of calls from constituents opposed the plan, with most saying they were outraged that small businesses and taxpayers were being called upon to bail out giant Wall Street firms.

“Quite frankly, if I held a town hall meeting and told my constituents we needed to do this so they could get car loans and business loans, they’d laugh me out of the building.”

But Mr. Bernanke argued that the rescue plan was designed to get banks lending again and restore confidence in the markets generally.

Asked if pension plans and individual 401-K savings plans would be hurt if Congress failed to act, the Fed chairman replied, “Very likely.”

Other major sticking points in the debate include the amount of congressional and public oversight of the Treasury rescue operation; limits on executive pay; and the possible inclusion of troubled credit card, auto and other types of loans in the government asset buyout.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that it was imperative to slow down and consider all the implications of the plan.

“The main thing is not to do it fast but to do it right. If that takes to election time, that’s how long it’s going to have to take,” Mr. Reid told reporters.

Joint Economic Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, challenged Mr. Bernanke over the administration’s stand.

He noted that billionaire investor Warren Buffett get a major ownership stake in troubled Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs after agreeing to invest $5 billion in the firm.

“This morning Warren Buffet got an equity share in Goldman Sachs and that didn’t stop Goldman Sachs from making the deal,” he said.

But Mr. Bernanke countered that Mr. Buffett himself said he made the investment in part because he was confident Congress would address the market crisis.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Texas Democrat, pressed Mr. Bernanke over the administration’s plan to raise the federal debt ceiling — essentially borrow the money — to pay for the bailout. He noted President Bush rejected a five-year $50 billion program to boost health insurance coverage for children because it was “too expensive.”

“This is the same solution the administration used to finance the Iraq war, the same solution it uses in every crisis: borrow the money,” Mr. Doggett said.

Mr. Bernanke acknowledged the plan will raise the federal debt.

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