updated 11/17/2008 1:56:52 PM ET 2008-11-17T18:56:52

The Bush administration has told top lawmakers it does not plan to use at least half of the $700 billion bailout fund that Congress approved this fall to aid the financial industry, congressional officials said Monday.

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These officials said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson passed the word over the weekend that he intends to leave $350 billion untouched when the administration leaves office on Jan. 20. That would mean the incoming Obama administration would decide whether and how the funds should be spent.

The disclosure comes at a time when Democrats are working to pass emergency legislation to spend $25 billion of the bailout money to provide loans to the battered auto industry.

These officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose the developments.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto neither confirmed nor disputed their account, adding that any decision about the use of the remaining $350 billion was up to Paulson.

"He said he's working to continue to design and develop programs, and when it's the right time to use them Treasury will announce it. And if it then makes sense to go to Congress, he'll recommend we request to drawdown the second $350 billion," Fratto said.

Under the bailout legislation that cleared Congress, $250 billion was available immediately, and another $100 billion could be spent without congressional acquiesence.

The remaining $350 billion can be spent only if Congress doesn't disapprove. One official said the administration wanted to avoid a situation in which Republican lawmakers voted against tapping the remaining money that ultimately was cleared for use.

Ironically, when the administration initially sought the bailout measure, Paulson argued for a $700 billion package to be made available at once.

It marked the second reversal on the part of the administration. President George W. Bush, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Paulson initially told lawmakers the $700 billion was needed to buy troubled assets that banks were carrying on their books.

But last week, Paulson made it official: the government wouldn't use any of the $700 billion to buy the toxic assets.

So far, the Treasury Department has pledged $250 billion for banks in return for partial ownership, a measure designed to encourage the institutions to boost lending and stabilize credit markets.

In addition, the administration has agreed to devote $40 billion to troubled insurer American International Group, leaving $60 billion available for additional bailout efforts through Jan. 20.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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