WASHINGTON (AP) - Prospects for passage of a $14 billion auto
industry rescue package dimmed Thursday amid strong Republican
opposition, despite urgent appeals by both President-elect Barack
Obama and the Bush White House.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell came out against the
legislation - the product of a hard-fought behind-the-scenes
compromise between the majority Democrats and the White House. And
not even the White House's argument that it was crucial at a time
of rising joblessness seemed to restore lost momentum for
Proponents scrounged for the votes to clear the legislation as
early as Thursday afternoon. President George W. Bush was lobbying
for the bill, as well, arguing that the economy can't stand massive
But McConnell said the measure "isn't nearly tough enough."
The Kentucky Republican also called for a different bill - one that
would force U.S. automakers to slash wages and benefits to bring
them in line with Japanese carmakers Nissan, Toyota and Honda - in
return for any federal aid.
That approach was virtually certain to be a nonstarter among
Democrats who count labor unions among their strongest supporters.
The stalemate highlighted the difficulty of pushing another
rescue package through a bailout-fatigued Congress, particularly
one designed to span the administrations of a lameduck president
and his successor. Oddly, they were united in pressing hard for its
In Chicago, Obama told reporters that the government can't just
stand by and watch the industry collapse, saying that would have a
"devastating ripple effect" throughout the economy.
Earlier, just after the Labor Department reported new
applications for jobless benefits were at their highest level in 26
years, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said the country
couldn't afford an auto industry meltdown: "We don't think the
economy can sustain it," she said.
On Capitol Hill, patience was wearing thin as the clock ticked
down on the current Congress and Democratic leaders were short of
the votes they would need to pass the measure.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader, called for swift
separate votes Thursday on compromise legislation backed by
Democrats and the White House as well as the GOP proposal. If not,
he promised a test-vote Friday morning to force a final up-or-down
vote within days.
"We have danced this tune long enough," Reid declared
But many Republicans remained staunchly opposed to it, and some
Democrats were ill or absent from the emergency, postelection
congressional session. Supports of the bailout acknowledged that in
this scenario, getting the requisite 60 votes to pass it would be
"It's a challenge for us, but we're working as hard as we can
and I would just say it's very close," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow,
Republicans are directly challenging Bush, arguing that any
support for the domestic auto industry should carry significant,
specific concessions from autoworkers and creditors. They're also
bitterly opposed to tougher environmental rules carmakers would
have to meet as part of the House-passed version of the rescue
package - something that also faces some Democratic opposition.
Behind the scenes, Senate leaders were negotiating to schedule
possible votes on the House-passed bill, a Senate version that
omits the environmental provision, and the GOP alternative,
sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
The House approved its plan late Wednesday on a vote of 237-170.
It would infuse money within days into cash-starved General Motors
Corp. and Chrysler LLC. Ford Motor Co., which has said it has
enough cash to make it through 2009, would also be eligible for
Supporters cited dire warnings from GM and Chrysler executives,
who have said they could run out of cash within weeks.
It's unclear how much support the measure enjoys among Senate
Democrats, who have mostly been mum about it.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)