$700 billion question: fate of bad loans

Debate rages around Treasury plan

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The Bush administration’s plan to allow the Treasury Department to buy up to $700 billion in troubled mortgage-related assets could help thaw the credit crunch, by helping big financial firms move bad loans off their books.

But critics of the plan want the government to provide more protections for taxpayers and help for individuals struggling with their mortgage payments — goals that may be inherently contradictory.