Opposition firm as Congress considers auto rescue

WASHINGTON -- Congressional leaders put the final touches on a $15 billion rescue for General Motors gm and Chrysler on Wednesday, as Democrats vowed to move ahead with the plan even as top Senate Republicans raised several objections and some vowed to filibuster.

Although the House would likely hold a vote on the plan later Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it is unlikely the Senate could act that quickly. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it would be impossible to hold a vote Wednesday because Republicans hadn't had the time to study the legislation.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said on the Senate floor that the rescue plan was "ass-backwards" for handing the money to the automakers first before requiring more detailed plans of how they would save themselves. GM, which has a plant in Louisiana, and Chrysler have said they need $8 billion before the end of the month to stave off insolvency.

Vitter said he would use every procedural tool at his command to delay and block any bill.

"This proposal dooms companies to failure," Vitter said.

Reid said that if Republicans used such roadblocks, the Senate would likely have to meet through the weekend to pass any bill. Backers of the rescue need 60 votes in the Senate to succeed, including up to 20 Republicans. Reid said Vice President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to come back and vote if necessary.

McConnell said he had no way of knowing whether the compromise reached between the Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House addressed the concerns his party had raised.

"A company that does not respond to market conditions is a company that's doomed to fail anyway," he said.

Democratic aides and senior administration officials told the Free Press that the compromise strengthens the power of the federal overseer, or car czar, who will make loans to GM and Chrysler. If those companies don't make cuts and reach deals with creditors and the union by March 31, the overseer must call back any loans and essentially force the companies into bankruptcy.

The bill did not appear to force automakers to drop lawsuits against California's greenhouse-gas limits on vehicles, a clause House Democrats had strongly favored, but the White House and Republicans opposed.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., urged Congress to act.

"We cannot sit idly by and allow our manufacturing base to be decimated by the credit crisis," she said. "In order to stay competitive in a global economy and preserve our middle class, we must make things in this country."

While the bill would give GM and Chrysler the $14 billion — with an extra $1 billion if conditions worsen — the automakers say they need to survive through March 31, it also sets the terms for Ford Motor f, which has said it will not take a loan but will ask for a $9 billion credit line. GM and Chrysler would have to grant the government stock or warrants that could give it a majority stake in either company, and also restrict executive pay and end corporate jet travel.