U.S. President George W. Bush has invited both presidential candidates to the White House Thursday to hold emergency talks on the crisis in the country's financial markets.

Bush, a Republican, personally telephoned Democrat Barack Obama Wednesday night to ask him to attend a session to discuss the proposed $700-billion US package to bail out financial firms that are coping with billions of dollars in bad debt linked to the collapse of the U.S. housing market.

Obama has accepted the offer, as has Republican presidential candidate John McCain, officials from both camps confirmed. The Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress will also be there.

"I have invited Senators McCain and Obama to join Congressional leaders of both parties at the White House tomorrow to help speed our discussions toward a bipartisan bill," Bush said in a live television address Wednesday night.

"I know an economic rescue package will present a tough vote for many members of Congress."  

McCain set to suspend campaign

Bush's invite came hours after McCain announced he plans to suspend his campaign Thursday, and return to Washington to deal with the crisis.

He said he also wants to postpone Friday's presidential debate in order to focus all of his attention on the economy.

Obama quickly disagreed the proposition, saying "it's more important than ever" for the country to hear from its next president. He said the American people need to see and hear from the leaders who will be trying to find a solution in the months ahead.

"It's my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who, in approximately 40 days, will be responsible for dealing with this mess," Obama said at a news conference in Florida Wednesday.

"It's going to be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once."

Their duelling positions came after the two senators spoke privately, each trying to portray himself as the bipartisan leader at a time of crisis.

But McCain beat Obama to the punch with the first public statement, saying the Bush administration's Wall Street $700 billion US bailout proposal seemed headed for defeat and a bipartisan solution was urgently needed.

Both men said they realize the American people will suffer if the bailout falls through.

"It has become clear that no consensus has developed to support the administration's proposal," McCain said. "I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time."

With files from the Associated Press