Congress sends White House auto aid proposal

By: AP
By: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congressional Democrats on Monday sent the White House a draft of a roughly $15 billion auto bailout they aim to bring to a vote this week, but White House officials gave a cool initial response.

The measure would rush bridge loans to Detroit's struggling Big Three but would also demand that the auto industry restructure itself in order to survive and would put an overseer chosen by President George W. Bush in charge of monitoring that effort, according to a draft obtained by The Associated Press.

The White House had just begun evaluating the Democratic language, according to officials who would comment on the continuing negotiations only on condition of anonymity. But they said the draft didn't appear consistent with the principles behind a broad agreement to give long-term financing only to viable companies. They said it was hard to tell definitively whether their doubts were warranted and they would continue talking to Capitol Hill representatives.

At the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, "While we take no satisfaction in loaning taxpayer money to these companies, we know it must be done." He added, "This is no blank check or blind hope."

Earlier Monday, the White House and a top Democratic lawmaker said they were likely to strike a deal quickly on the multibillion-dollar bailout, which places strict restrictions on the automakers while they're receiving the loans and mandates that the government overseer keep close tabs on their efforts to restructure.

The emergency loans would be drawn from an existing program meant to help the automakers build fuel-efficient vehicles.

Among the requirements included the draft proposal is one that the carmakers getting federal help get rid of their corporate jets - which became a potent symbol of the industry's ineptitude when the Big Three CEOs used them for their initial trips to Washington to plead before Congress for government aid.

The White House said the fundamental approach in the language does not appear to meet Bush's main test: that long-term financing with taxpayer dollars only be made available to companies with a viable future in the marketplace. Bush officials believed congressional negotiators were on board with this idea as well.

The proposal also gives the overseer - a kind of "car czar" - say-so over any major business decisions by the automakers while they're taking advantage of federal aid. The companies would have to open their books to the government, including informing the overseer of any transaction of $25 million or more and any "material change" in their financial condition.

Under the plan, the carmakers' could get emergency loans right away. Then the overseer would write guidelines, due on the first of the year, for restructuring the companies that received them.

In testimony before Congress last week, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, which have said they are weeks from collapse, made it clear they would need a total of $14 billion to $15 billion to survive through early 2009. Ford Motor Co. has said it has enough money to stay afloat unless one of the other Big Three goes under or the economy deteriorates more sharply.

While the measure would put an administration official selected by Bush in charge of setting terms for restructuring, the decision about whether the terms were being met would not be made until President-elect Barack Obama had been sworn in. Congressional Democrats and the White House were working to find a broadly supported candidate who could span the two administrations.

Congressional officials said Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer who oversaw the federal Sept. 11 victims' compensation fund, was under consideration for the position.

Asked if a deal could be struck for a vote as early as Monday, White House spokeswoman Perino said, "I think it's very likely." That was before the Democrats sent their draft.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the Financial Services Committee chairman, said that he, too, expected a deal by the end of the day and enactment by week's end.


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