Government Closes In On Deal for Automakers

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

ByABC News
December 8, 2008, 11:26 AM

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.