After two days of congressional hearings on a proposal to rescue the ailing auto industry, lawmakers today said something must be done but did not yet have a clear strategy for action.
Senators will return to Capitol Hill on Monday afternoon to consider an auto bailout, though it remains unclear what will be in the bill. The House will reconvene Tuesday.
Disheartening data on job losses from the Labor Department added urgency to the situation as automotive industry leaders ventured to the other side of Capitol Hill today, appearing before a House panel to ask for a massive loan to revive their companies.
The same players made their case to a Senate panel Thursday, where they hashed out the details of a proposed $34 billion aid package for the auto industry.
"There's still a lot of disagreement about how to do this, but there is much less disagreement on whether or not to do it," said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services. "I think that was probably affected by the awful jobs numbers we got this morning."
"We're not at a point of agreement, but with very few exceptions, today members were saying, 'Yes, we should do something," Frank added. "We should not allow the collapse of these companies. Now we're going to have some conversations to see if we can get agreement on how to do it."
But the battle for the money is also taking place off Capitol Hill. On Thursday night, Democrats demanded that the Bush administration take action instead of Congress.
They're asking that some of the $700 billion signed into law this fall to bolster the financial services industry be allocated to the auto companies.
Lawmakers said they wanted an answer by today.
"We look forward to hearing from you on an expedited basis, since we will be notifying colleagues tomorrow of next week's session," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wrote in their letter.
Still, Friday morning, President Bush put the onus on Congress.
"It is important that Congress act next week on this plan," Bush said. "And it's important to make sure that taxpayers' money be paid back if any is given to the companies."
"I am concerned about the viability of the automobile companies," Bush also stated. "And likewise, I am concerned about taxpayer money being provided to those companies that may not survive."
Thursday evening White House deputy spokesman Tony Fratto explained further why the White House would resist calls to use the money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, to bail out the automakers.
"We have said we want to help the auto industry if it can show a viability plan that passes the test to get taxpayer money," Fratto said. "The TARP was not intended for that purpose. The Energy Department program at least was designed to help the auto industry -- and it could get bipartisan support if the Democrats would just lift a finger to try it. Instead, they can't get congressional support for their idea to use the TARP money, so they want us to do it instead."
"It now goes to the actual stability of the financial sector itself," Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Thursday after the Senate hearing, imploring the Bush administration to use TARP funds for the auto industry. "The banks and financial sector would be threatened if the Big Three go under."
"The administration understands the importance of this problem and has the tools at its disposal," he said.