Today is payday for two of Detroit's Big Three automakers, due to receive over $13 billion in taxpayer funds to keep the American auto industry running, and analysts say the bailout is likely to be just the beginning.
The U.S. Treasury is expected to transfer $9.3 billion to General Motors and $4 billion to Chrysler, but Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody's Economy.com, predicts that over the next few years taxpayers will pay a total of $75-$125 billion to keep the Big Three out of bankruptcy.
"The bailout will likely cost $100 billion or more before we're through," University of Maryland economist Peter Morici told ABC News, adding that much of that money, technically loans, might never be paid back.
The automakers are stalled in launching the restructuring the Bush administration wants. G.M. has put off negotiations with creditors until Jan. 5. And the United Auto Workers Union doesn't want to go along with the wage and benefit cuts the bailout agreement calls for, in hopes that the Obama administration will drop a target in the bailout that calls for the Big Three to make wages competitive with transplanted Japanese carmakers operating in southern states. The initial installment of funds is not expected to carry GM past February.
Analysts say it's not a question of whether they'll be back to ask for more money -- but when.
"Given the depressed state of the auto market, General Motors and Chrysler will certainly be back again for more aid," Morici said. "It's just a matter of time."
With more than a million jobs at stake, economists say Congress, the Bush administration and later the Obama administration will likely do what new car buyers do: complain about the price, and then pay it.
But first, Congress would have to overcome a bad case of bailout fatigue after the first half of the $700 billion financial industry rescue, as Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday.
"The money has not been accounted for. It made the auto situation much more difficult, because people -- it really poisoned the well for government involvement," Brown said.
Bailout fatigue or not, conditions are ripe for the automakers to garner more loans. President-elect Barack Obama, and a larger Democratic majority in Congress, were elected in no small part with the support of union workers, who will undoubtedly remind them after the new president enters the Oval Office Jan. 20.