Politics & Government

Push for quick auto bailout could stall over GOP objections

WASHINGTON — The Senate's top Republican on Tuesday said he's unhappy with the auto industry rescue plan being pushed by Democratic congressional leaders, as Democrats scrambled to make changes that would win approval by the end of the week.

The $15 billion proposal "fails to achieve our goal of securing the long-term viability of ailing auto companies," Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a Senate floor speech.

"I want to support a bill that revives this industry," he said, "but I will not support a bill that provides the patient with taxpayer dollars, yet doesn't (include) the commitment that the patient will change its ways so that future help isn't needed."

McConnell's concerns are similar to those of the White House, which has also not signed off on the Democratic plan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, remained optimistic a compromise would be reached, perhaps by mid-day, saying he was "confrident and hopeful."

The plan offered Monday by Democrats would provide emergency loans to Detrot's Big Three automakers. General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC are most in need of help, and could go bankrupt shortly without federal aid.

The Democratic proposal would create a presidentially-appointed overseer to make key management decisions for companies receiving the money. The automakers would have until March 31 to give the government long-term restructuring plans.

The proposal also would put strict limits on executive pay, require that taxpayers be repaid before anyone else, and bar dividends in most cases.

McConnell's support is crucial, since the lame-duck Senate has 49 Republicans, and should they band together they would have enough votes to filibuster any effort.

McConnell Tuesday laid out his position, saying the Democratic plan "fails to require the kind of serioius reform that will ensure long term viability for struggling automobile companies.

"By giving the government the optiion of cancelling government assistance in any event, (even if ) reforms are not achieved, rather than requiring it, we open the door to unlimited federal assistance in the future," he said.

He _ and the White House _ want assurance management will be required to make tough choices that will put them on a path to viability. They also want sacrifices from labor.

"A good proposal would force automakers to get control of their benefit costs," McConnell said. A good proposal would make wages of struggling companies competitive with other automakers _ not tomorrow, but today."

Ron Gettlefinger, president of the United Autoworkers union, said Tuesday if his union is asked to give up more, it needed to get something in return.

"If we're going to be asked to give up more," he told CBS, "and it appears that we are, then we should have an equity stake in the company." He was referring to GM.

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