Detroit automaker CEOs, UAW head plead for help

Looked at another way, opponents want to keep the auto bailout to $25 billion, and they say the Wall Street rescue bill is no place to look for help for the carmakers.

Supporters, on the other hand, want to make a total of $50 billion available to the auto industry and see no reason why a sliver — 4% of the total — from the financial bailout shouldn't go to help a sector as vital to national security and employment as auto manufacturing.

"We're just going to draw the line at the $25 billion that's been authorized," rebutted White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

The commitment to that $25 billion for retooling plants remains deep in the House. Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Tuesday in a speech at the National Press Club that he couldn't see the House reversing itself — even though when he takes office in late January, Democratic President Barack Obama would have an easy time getting a new Congress with more Democrats in both chambers. to fund both.

Hoyer mentioned the idea of a December session, saying he wasn't even sure the House would come in this week. It would depend, he said, on whether it could result in "anything productive."

The automakers say they can't wait until Obama's inauguration. By then, one or more of them could have collapsed under the weight of poor sales, frozen credit, dwindling cash reserves and high costs.

Should that happen, it could send a huge shock through the national economy.

Mayors join call for help

On Tuesday, a group of mayors from Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere pleaded for immediate help for the industry, which is said to directly or indirectly support 3 million jobs and affects thousands of retirees across the nation.

Even before the current crisis, the automakers were struggling with deep retrenching through plant closures and job cuts that have plagued Michigan's economy for years.

At a news conference in Washington, the mayors said they prefer both retaining the $25 billion in loans to retool plants — money authorized as part of Congress' decision last year to increase fuel efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 — and an additional $25 billion to help the industry immediately. But if it had to be one or the other, they said, they'd like a compromise.

"Right now," said Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, one of those meeting with senators Tuesday, "it's a matter of survival."

Today, Detroit Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr. visits Washington to lobby for the bailout as well, as a House committee takes up its version of the auto bailout, which would take a $25 billion slice of the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street.

Clock running out

There may not be enough time to reach a compromise this week, anyways. The White House, Senate Republicans and some Democrats have plainly predicted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan don't have the votes to pass the bill, which authorizes 10-year loans, with restrictions on executive compensation and dividends to shareholders for the life of the loans.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said "there's too much opposition from the" (Bush) administration" to get the bill through."

Perino reaffirmed the Bush White House's commitment to automakers but said flatly that $25 billion in authorized funds is enough.

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