Senate leaders gave up Thursday night on a $14 billion automaker bailout, sunk by the refusal of the autoworkers union to agree to the concessions that Republicans had demanded as their price for support.
After a negotiating marathon dragged into the night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, pulled the plug on efforts to tweak the bailout deal brokered by Democrats and the White House but opposed by Republicans.
The talks broke off when the United Auto Workers refused Republican demands that the union set “a date certain” by which its members would have a lower pay scale, one comparable to such manufacturers as Nissan and Volkswagen.
A vote to end debate on the bill and go to a vote on passage received only a 52-35 margin, falling short of the 60 votes needed and killing the bill’s chances in the Senate for the year.
“It’s over with,” Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor shortly before the vote, acknowledging that he didn’t have enough support.
Mr. Reid said the Senate was finished with the bailout legislation for the year, leaving the troubled Big Three automakers for President-elect Barack Obama and the new Congress to worry about next year.
However, Mr. Reid did call on President Bush to extend a loan to the car companies from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout program - a move the president has long resisted.
The Bush administration gave no indication Thursday night that it would change its stance, simply saying in a statement that it was “disappointing that Congress failed to act tonight” and that there was nothing wrong with the legislation it had helped broker.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said while standing next to Mr. Reid that the bailout was “simply unacceptable to the vast majority of our side, because we … thought it wouldn’t work.”
Mr. McConnell cited the UAW wage stance as the sticking point that could not be overcome.
“We were about three words away from a deal,” said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Republican point man in the auto bailout talks, referring to the phrase “a date certain,” which both he and Mr. McConnell repeated in their floor speeches.
“We solved everything substantively and about three words keep us from reaching a conclusion.”
Pro-bailout senators told the Associated Press that the UAW would agree to wage concessions, but only in the context of the regularly scheduled renegotiation of its contract, which runs out in the 2011.
“A lot of struggling Americans are asking where their bailout is,” Mr. McConnell said earlier Thursday. “They wonder why one business would get support over another. When it comes to the auto industry, many Republicans in Congress have asked these same questions.”