Government Closes In On Deal for Automakers

White House has stringent requirements for any aid given to automakers.

Dec. 8, 2008— -- The White House has received a draft of a bill from Congress that would aim to keep Detroit's Big Three carmakers rolling at least into early next year.

The draft bill would call on President Bush to select one or more people within the executive branch to authorize, disperse and oversee a loan for the auto industry.

On Monday morning, White House press secretary Dana Perino said a deal was "very likely" to be hammered out by the end of the day. Still, by Monday afternoon, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said no deal had been struck but added that she was encouraged by the way negotiations were proceeding.

Congress and the White House have been working to hash out a tentative agreement that would give General Motors and Chrysler a short-term infusion of about $15 billion in low-interest loans to stay afloat in the months ahead. Ford has also requested loans but will have to wait.

Senators began debate on the proposal at 3 p.m. today. Leadership staff on both sides of the aisle are predicting a Wednesday vote on the auto bailout in the Senate. House lawmakers return tomorrow.

Still, details of the plan, including what kind of oversight and conditions would be imposed on the automakers, could be cause for disagreement. On Monday afternoon, White House officials were concerned that the draft bill does not make explicit enough that loans would only go to companies that can prove they are viable.

"Long-term financing must be conditioned on the principle that taxpayers should only assist automakers executing a credible plan for long-term viability," the White House said in a statement Monday evening. "We'll continue to work with members on both sides of the aisle to achieve legislation that protects the good faith investment by taxpayers."

Today, Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee said $15 billion might be too little money, but added, "It's better than nothing."

The auto companies had requested more than double that amount of money, but lawmakers have decided that it will be up to a new Congress and a new president to find a longer-term solution. According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 54 percent of those surveyed oppose giving automakers up to $34 billion in federal loans, while 37 percent support it.

The $15 billion would come from funds Congress had already provided to the carmakers to help finance fuel-efficient technology. The White House has resisted calls to give the industry a loan with money allocated for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, signed into law this fall.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are cautiously optimistic the plan will pass, but it won't be easy. For starters, congressional Republicans have not been involved in crafting the proposal, and as evidenced at hearings on the subject last week, there are also plenty of rank-and-file Democrats opposed to bailing out Detroit.

In the Senate, 60 lawmakers would need to support the bill in order for the proposal to overcome a threatened filibuster by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. Just who could be tapped to oversee the loan is not yet clear. On Monday, a spokeswoman for Kenneth Feinberg, a Washington, D.C. lawyer whose name has been floated, told that Feinberg said he knows nothing about it and has not been offered the position.

Some Call for GM's CEO to Resign

Some members of Congress have also recently suggested that the auto companies need a change in leadership and proposed that that stipulation be included in the plan. Connecticut's Sen. Christopher Dodd has suggested that General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner be replaced. This weekend, President-elect Barack Obama, while expressing support for congressional efforts to help the auto industry, also referred to decisions that should have been made decades ago by an industry with a "head-in-the-sand" approach.

Today Perino declined to comment when asked if the White House thought the Big Three needed new leaders.

In an ad in Automotive News, GM made its case to American taxpayers. Wagoner told lawmakers last week that GM, without an infusion of $4 billion in taxpayer loans before the end of the year, would go bankrupt and have to be liquidated.

"We know some Americans have questioned why the federal government should assist the auto industry, specifically when so many other sectors of the economy appear to be at serious risk too," the company stated. "The answer is because we have already lost a number of industries that spin raw materials into finished products that can be purchased by the citizens of this nation and, just as importantly, those of other nations."

"A healthy manufacturing base generating exports is critical to the economy and national security of the United States. The auto industry is the backbone of this country's manufacturing base. This is why we need to borrow money from U.S. taxpayers," Wagoner argued in the ad.

New job loss numbers released last Friday from the Labor Department added urgency to the auto industry's effort. The numbers revealed 533,000 job losses in November.

November was the worst monthly report for job losses since December 1974 and the sixth worst month since 1929, when record keeping first started.

"It now goes to the actual stability of the financial sector itself," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Thursday after a Senate hearing on the topic. "The banks and financial sector would be threatened if the Big Three go under."

"Context is especially important this morning," Frank said Friday. "A failure to some extent of three of our major domestic manufacturing entities would be a very serious problem in any case. In the midst of the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, it would be an unmitigated disaster."

As automotive industry leaders made their case to both sides of Congress last week, James Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, told senators that failures at the Big Three automakers would be devastating for small businesses because it's difficult for a dealer to get people financed for cars when banks are hesitant to give them money.

"To our people, to these small-business people, it is a tsunami, it is not a ripple," Fleming said.

On Monday, Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli also posted a message to employees.

"Assuming the receipt of the bridge loan, concessions from all Chrysler's major constituencies and our continued restructuring and transformation, Chrysler would manage through the current economic downturn and generate adequate cash to begin repayment of the loan in 2012," he wrote.

"While the situation in Washington remains dynamic, I am very encouraged by the developments over the weekend and the growing interest shown by Congress and the administration to provide needed financial assistance to the three Detroit automakers."

On Monday, members of the United Auto Workers, active workers and retirees, were on Capitol Hill to make the case that the auto industry deserves financial help from the government.

Frank Hammer, a retired GM worker, rejected the notion that the major automakers are suffering severe problems because of high wages and costly benefits for workers.

"The blame lies directly with the reckless behavior of Wall Street and the politicians who have removed all constraints on their unbridled greed," Hammer told reporters at a news conference.

"We urge Congress to endorse the bridge loan immediately, although we reject the notion that auto workers must make further concessions for its approval," he said.

ABC News' John Hendren, Jon Garcia, Dean Norland and Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.