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Automaker bill failure sparks GOP intra-party war
Republicans on Friday angrily demanded that President Bush respect the legislative process after the Senate blocked a bailout for the automakers and the White House said Mr. Bush would consider reversing course and rescuing them on his own.
The bailout’s failure has sparked a full-blown intra-party war, with several Republicans saying the White House scuttled their efforts to win concessions from the United Auto Workers union and one Republican senator arguing Washington “might be completely out of control.”
“How have we come to a point that Congress — the institution that represents the will of the American people — has handed over so much money and authority to the Treasury Secretary that, if the democratic process fails to achieve a certain desired outcome, the outcome is simply ignored?” said Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican.
Late Thursday Senate Republicans led a filibuster to block a $14 billion rescue package for the automakers that Mr. Bush had negotiated with congressional Democrats. The bill failed to reach the 60 votes needed to stop the filibuster, with senators voting 52-35 for the bill.
Hours later the White House said Mr. Bush would consider tapping funds from Troubled Assets Relief Program, created by Congress earlier this year to help financial institutions, to aid automakers. Previously the president had balked at using TARP funds, saying they were not appropriate for rescuing failing auto businesses.
“Under normal economic conditions we would prefer that markets determine the ultimate fate of private firms. However, given the current weakened state of the U.S. economy, we will consider other options if necessary including use of the TARP program to prevent a collapse of troubled automakers,” said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.
Mrs. Perino admonished the Senate.
“It is disappointing that while appropriate and effective legislation to assist and restructure troubled automakers received majority support in both houses, Congress nevertheless failed to pass final legislation,” she said.
But senators said the White House hurt their efforts to win concessions from the unions and get a deal done.
Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican and his party’s chief negotiator on the rescue package, said United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger now has no incentive to work out a deal, knowing Mr. Bush will step in.
“He believes he’s gotten indications from the White House that TARP money is coming. And I think he believes that at this point there’s really no reason to carry the conversations any further,” Mr. Corker said.
And Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, said Mr. Bush would be wrong to reverse course and use the TARP funds.
“A decision to use TARP would set a new precedent that the next administration may use to aggressively assert industrial policy and expand government control into numerous specific businesses that are having troubles during these difficult times,” he said, echoing Mr. Corker’s charge that the White House ruined their negotiating position.
“Had the administration made it unequivocally clear that TARP funds should not be used for this purpose, it is likely a bipartisan, constructive solution to the auto issue would have been reached in the Senate last night,” Mr. Gregg said.
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