He called the proposed bailout a "staggering" figure that amounts to a $10,000 contribution for each U.S. household, money that could otherwise be used to rebuild roads and bridges in every town in the country. To protect taxpayers, he asked for a bipartisan board to provide oversight, a plan to recover the money, a cap on compensation for executives of firms that helped by the bailout and a ban on earmarks on the legislation.
McCain stopped short of saying he would vote "no" if his priorities weren't reflected. "I can't say that at this time because the emphasis should be on the adoption of these principles," McCain said.
But he but pushed back on suggestions that Democrats might not support the plan if they thought McCain would vote against it and then demonize party lawmakers for favoring a massive new government program.
"Somehow for Democrats to say their vote is gauged on my vote frankly doesn't do them a great deal of credit," McCain said. "Their first and only priority should be making sure this economy recovers."
McCain said the financial crisis was the worst since World War II and insisted he had warned about the condition of the nation's home mortgage market as early as two years ago, when he raised questions about the accounting practices of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The federal government seized control of troubled housing giants this month.
McCain has tied Democratic rival Barack Obama to Fannie and Freddie's troubles and has called on Jim Johnson and Franklin Raines - both Obama supporters and former Fannie Mae executives - to return large "golden parachute" payments they received from the corporations after leaving.
But under questioning, McCain said the same standard ought not to apply to Carly Fiorina, a top supporter who received a $42 million payout after being fired as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Under her tenure, the computer giant shed 20,000 jobs and lost half its market value.
Fiorina, McCain said, "is a role model to millions of young American women ... I'm proud of her record. I want everyone to know that Carly Fiorina is a person I admire."
While members of Congress have agreed in principle on aspects of the administration's proposal, many Democrats and some Republicans, like McCain, have insisted the plan deny golden parachute payments to executives at failing financial firms.