House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Supports New Help For Ailing U.S. Automakers

WASHINGTON (AP) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for
"emergency and limited financial assistance" for the battered
auto industry on Tuesday and urged the outgoing Bush administration
to join lawmakers in reaching a quick compromise.

Five days after dismal financial reports from General Motors
Corp. and Ford Motor Co., Pelosi backed legislation to make the
automakers eligible for help under the $700 billion bailout measure
that cleared Congress in October.

In a written statement, the California Democrat said the aid was
needed "in order to prevent the failure of one or more of the
major American automobile manufacturers, which would have a
devastating impact on our economy, particularly on the men and
women who work in that industry."

"Congress and the Bush administration must take immediate
action," she added. Administration officials have concluded that
the bailout bill that passed earlier does not permit loans to the
auto industry, but lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol
for a brief postelection session beginning next week.

The plight of the industry has drawn attention from the White
House and the incoming Obama administration in recent days, as well
as among lawmakers.

Last week, President-elect Obama prodded the Bush administration
to do more to help the industry, and on Monday, aides said he
raised the issue with President Bush in an Oval Office conversation
meant to underscore a smooth transition of power.

Officials familiar with the conversation said the president
replied he was open to the idea.

Before adjourning for the elections, Congress passed legislation
providing for $25 billion in government-backed loans to the
automakers to prod them to retool their factories to make more
efficient vehicles.

Since then, executives from GM, Ford and Chrysler LLC and
officials in the United Autoworkers union have called for more than
that to avert a possible collapse of one of the nation's most basic
industries, including a $25 billion loan to help keep the companies
afloat and $25 billion more to help cover future health care
payments for about 780,000 retirees and their dependents.

GM and Ford reported last week that they spent down their cash
reserves by a combined $14.6 billion in the past three months. Ford
said it would slash more than 2,000 white collar jobs.

Pelosi's statement did not specify how large an aid package she
prefers.

Instead, she said she had asked Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.,
chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to draft
legislation.

A companion effort is under way in the Senate.

The Senate is scheduled to meet next week in a postelection
session, but until Pelosi issued her statement, it was not clear
the House would follow suit.

The House already has passed legislation to provide additional
unemployment insurance benefits for some of the growing ranks of
the nation's jobless, as well as a separate measure to stimulate
the economy.

That meant the Senate could have passed either or both bills and
sent them to the White House for Bush's signature without further
action by the House.

Pelosi's announcement changed that, and raised the possibility
of a postelection session that covers more areas.

The Bush administration, for example, has said that enactment of
a free trade agreement with Colombia is its top priority in
Congress.

Many Democrats oppose the proposed agreement as written. But it
is unclear what, if any, compromise might be possible that would
allow auto assistance and a trade agreement to be the last major
measures signed into law by the outgoing president.

In her statement, Pelosi said any assistance to the industry
should include limits on executive compensation, rigorous
government review authority and other taxpayer protections.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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