President Bush, flanked by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, left, and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, delivers a statement about the economy and government efforts to remedy the crisis, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON - Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson called autos a "critical industry" Wednesday but said a $700 billion financial rescue program wasn't designed for them. The White House was noncommittal, but said it was open to new ideas.
Asked about a Democratic congressional leadership plan to rush financial aid to the industry, Paulson cautioned that "any solution has got to be leading to long-term viability" for auto companies.
He said Congress could try to make funding more available to the auto industry as part of a $25 billion loan program approved in September to develop fuel-efficient vehicles.
At the White House, press secretary Dana Perino said the administration is not responsible for the automakers' woes but understands the importance of the industry. But officials there are reluctant to make any proposals for new aid, suggesting the car companies hold much of the responsibility for their own survival.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are pushing for something more sweeping to help the industry, which is suffering under the weight of poor sales, tight credit and a sputtering economy.
Pelosi said Tuesday she was confident that lawmakers meeting next week in a lameduck session would consider "emergency and limited financial assistance" for the auto industry under the $700 billion bailout measure that passed Congress in October. She urged the outgoing Bush administration to support a compromise.
"In order to prevent the failure of one or more of the major American automobile manufacturers ... Congress and the Bush administration must take immediate action," said Pelosi, D-Calif.
Senator Reid of Nevada, said that Democrats were "determined to pass legislation that will save the jobs of millions" as part of a postelection session. "This will only get done if President Bush and Senate Republicans work with us in a bipartisan fashion, and I am confident they will do what is right for our economy."
The Bush administration has concluded that the bailout bill that passed earlier does not allow loans to the auto industry.