- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008


Top congressional Democrats conceded Thursday they lacked the votes to pass a $25 billion bailout for the U.S. auto industry and said they would try again in December.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada demanded that the nation’s Big Three automakers submit a detailed plan by Dec. 2 on how much taxpayer money they would need and how they would use the funds before Congress would even consider a rescue package.

“Until they show us a plan, we cannot show them the money,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters.

Mr. Reid said Congress was “kicking the can down the road” because the heads of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC had failed to sway lawmakers during two long days of testimony before House and Senate panels this week.

“We do not have the votes” to pass an aid bill now, Mr. Reid said. “What happened in Washington this week was not good for the auto industry.”

Related story: In Detroit, locals brace for holidays

The decision to delay a vote short-circuited a last-minute effort by senators from Michigan and other Midwestern states to broker a compromise to help the beleaguered industry before the lame-duck session of Congress recesses at the end of the week.

Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi said that the auto companies would have to submit a detailed plan including “accountability and viability” for the industry if federal aid is to be given.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, and Senate banking panel Chairman Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, would first examine the plan in early December, with the full House and Senate prepared to return once more to Washington the week of Dec. 8 if necessary.

Detroit’s Big Three have made a concerted plea for help, saying their restructuring efforts have been undercut by the global financial crisis.

Within hours of Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi’s news conference, GM, Ford and Chrysler all had promised in public statements to give the Democratic lawmakers the blueprint they seek.

But many on Capitol Hill argue the companies themselves are at least partly to blame, the victims of their own management, marketing and engineering mistakes over the years. The revelation that the three top auto executives flew to Washington on corporate jets did not help their cause.

Mr. Reid, Mrs. Pelosi and others say the Bush administration already has the authority to tap the $700 billion Wall Street rescue package Congress approved last month to help the struggling car companies.

President Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. oppose that approach, saying the bailout money is still needed to prop up the fragile U.S. credit markets.

The White House has proposed that Congress modify a second $25 billion Department of Energy loan program already approved for the carmakers to help them produce fuel-efficient cars. But that idea has been opposed by Mrs. Pelosi and many House Democrats.

White House press secretary Dana Perino on Thursday put the blame on Mr. Reid for blocking a vote on the Republican alternative to tap the Energy Department loan fund. She said the White House was ready to support the Senate bipartisan compromise measure.

“Unfortunately, it looks like Senator Reid just wants to pick up his ball and go home for the next two weeks - two months - for vacation,” she said.

GM Chairman Rick Wagoner warned lawmakers that the country’s largest carmaker could run out of money by the end of the year, and could not wait until the Obama administration took office in January.

The three U.S. car companies employ nearly a quarter-million workers, and more than 730,000 other workers produce materials and parts that go into cars. If just one of the automakers declared bankruptcy, some estimates say the spillover effect would mean the loss of as many as 2.5 million jobs.

Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican and part of the bipartisan Senate group pressing for auto industry aid, said the stalemate was a blow to the workers of the auto industry looking to Washington for help.

“This would have been a wonderful Thanksgiving present for millions of Americans,” he said.

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