Democrats hunt for support for auto industry bailout

WASHINGTON -- Democratic lawmakers on Thursday were working out details of a $25 billion measure to aid the foundering U.S. auto industry, as top Republicans warned they weren't yet willing to back the plan.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who favors the aid, told reporters he didn't "know of a single Republican who's willing to support" the legislation and he would hesitate to bring up a bill that could fail.

Underscoring his concerns, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, a state with a sizable auto sector, said providing billions of dollars without major reform of the auto industry "is neither fair to taxpayers nor sound fiscal policy."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose state also has a big auto workforce, also was cool to the Democratic bill. Don Stewart, McConnell's communications director, noted that Congress had already approved $25 billion in low-interest loans this year to help automakers' projects to retool for more fuel-efficient cars and suggested that package be revamped to better help automakers meet immediate liquidity needs. None of that money has gone out yet. The White House has made similar suggestions.

The debate comes as General Motors gm, Ford Motor f and privately held Chrysler are losing billions of dollars each quarter, burning though cash faster than anemic sales can replace it. They could run out of money early next year without federal aid.

Industry officials are lobbying feverishly for aid. They argue that because the Detroit 3 share the same pool of suppliers, a bankruptcy by any one will cripple the others.

Shelly Lombard, an analyst at Gimme Credit, predicts GM sales would dry up if it filed for bankruptcy court protection. "For GM, bankruptcy could turn into a roach motel — the company goes in, but doesn't come out," she wrote in a research note.

Adding to other concerns, supporters are running into bailout fatigue on Capitol Hill. Many voters still are angry over the $700 billion financial sector rescue in October.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats will press ahead, but cautioned they need the support of Republicans. Other Democratic senators, such as Charles Schumer of New York, said they were hopeful needed votes would emerge. And Dodd said that even if a bailout is not passed now, it could be revived in January, after the new Congress and administration take office.