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The administration’s plan would allow the government to buy bad mortgages and other rotten assets held by troubled banks and financial institutions. Getting those debts off their books should bolster those companies’ balance sheets, making them more inclined to lend and easing one of the biggest choke points in the credit crisis. If the plan works, it should help lift a major weight off a national economy already crumbling under the burden of instability.

However, both Democrats and Republicans said that big changes are needed in the bailout plan. And that presages a difficult road ahead for the measure on Capitol Hill, with the election-year break bearing down on lawmakers.

So far this year, a dozen federally insured banks and thrifts have failed, compared with three last year. The country’s largest thrift, Washington Mutual Inc., is faltering.

The U.S. has taken extraordinary measures in recent weeks to prevent a financial calamity, which would have devastating implications for the broader economy. It has, among other things, taken control of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, provided an $85 billion emergency loan to insurance colossus American International Group Inc. and temporarily banned short selling of hundreds of financial stocks.