Dec. 9, 2008 -- An optimistic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this morning predicted a vote "tonight or tomorrow" on a bill to give emergency loans to ailing Detroit automakers.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Reid said two major issues remain between Democrats and White House negotiators and suggested that a workable solution is only a matter of hours away.
White House press secretary Dana Perino also commented on the measure's progress today, saying, "I think I would just say we're not quite closed down on everything yet, but we're certainly -- we certainly made a lot of good progress over the past several hours. I would characterize the conversations as cooperative in spirit. We're working fast, but we're also wanting to get it right."
Still, Reid's colleague Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a starkly different appraisal of the state of the bill, calling it a "deeply flawed" proposal.
McConnell, speaking just after Reid, ticked off several substantive problems he has with the Democratic proposal.
"In short, this proposal is deeply flawed because it fails to assure taxpayers - who rightly expect us to be good stewards of their hard-earned money - that they will not be asked to shell out billions more a few years or even a few months from now," McConnell said.
"This proposal does not go nearly far enough. It holds neither management nor labor truly accountable. And in areas where one side is held accountable, the other side isn't."
White House and congressional negotiators worked until late Monday night to try to resolve their differences on the bill. Congressional staff sent the White House their latest draft around midnight.
"Too early to say, nothing done yet," a senior White House official told ABC News this morning.
Staff for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, "We're not that far apart."
Pelosi will speak later this afternoon on the status of the bill. Later this evening, House Democrats will go into a closed caucus meeting where, if there's a final bill drafted, Pelosi and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., will explain the bill and urge colleagues to support it.
A vote on the measure intended to keep America's major automakers in business through the winter could happen as early as Wednesday. It's unclear whether the House or Senate will vote on the bill first.
The draft bill, first sent to the White House Monday, 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. Congress and the White House have been hashing out a plan to give General Motors and Chrysler a total, short-term infusion of about $15 billion in low-interest loans to stay afloat in the months ahead.
GM CEO Rick Wagoner told lawmakers last week that without an infusion of $4 billion in taxpayer loans before the end of the year, the company would go bankrupt and have to be liquidated.
Ford has also requested loans but negotiators have determined the company will not receive funding at this point.
Hammering Out the Details
Meanwhile, despite Perino saying Monday morning that a deal was "very likely" by the end of the day, getting the key players to agree on the details of the measure remains tricky. Negotiators are working to iron out the oversight and conditions that would be imposed on the automakers.
The White House demanded three key changes to the measure Monday night.
White House Weighs Into Auto Deal
The White House called for stronger requirements to ensure that loans would only go to companies that can prove they are viable. It also called on Congress to strip the provision from the bill that would require automakers to notify the government of every $25 million or more transaction, as well as to strip a provision that would ban automaker lawsuits against state-imposed regulations.
But even if hurdles are cleared between Congress and the White House, getting enough votes to pass the measure still won't be easy. Neither Senate Republicans nor House Republicans have been involved in crafting the bill. The effort will likely be tougher in the Senate, where the bill will need the support of at least 14 Republicans, probably more, to reach the filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes.
Even Republicans in the Senate who have fought for the auto industry bailout are concerned with the Democrats' plan.
"One of my concerns is that this bill doesn't go far enough to secure viability plans from the auto companies that would best ensure that the money will be paid back to the taxpayers," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, in a Tuesday statement. "I am also concerned with other provisions that could hurt the auto industry in the long run. I will continue to work with my colleagues and the White House to address those concerns."
Voinovich said he still hopes to have a vote this week.
Reid predicted that he and the Republican Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell would sequester themselves in room as soon as there is agreement between the White House and Congressional Democrats and figure out how to work toward a vote.
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.
During the past week, automakers have repeatedly made the case to lawmakers and U.S. taxpayers to explain why they need a loan.
"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," GM stated in an ad in Automotive News. "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.
James Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, likewise told senators on Capitol Hill last week 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.
Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli also posted a message to employees Monday.
"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."
ABC News' John Hendren, Jon Garcia, Dean Norland and Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.