House paves way to auto bailout

Potholes await in Senate as many in GOP bash bill

Published: Thursday, Dec. 11 2008 1:01 a.m. MST

WASHINGTON — The House passed a $15 billion auto bailout bill Wednesday, but a key supporter saw trouble ahead in the Senate.

"I don't think the votes are there," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, a backer of the measure. Earlier in the day, several GOP critics lambasted the bill as not going far enough in requiring changes, even though the White House supports it.

"This is only delaying their funeral," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said of the carmakers.

All three of Utah's House members voted against the bill — Reps. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Rob Bishop and Chris Cannon, both R-Utah.

Matheson was one of just 20 Democrats who opposed the bill. "I am very concerned about the federal government bailing out one industry after another," he said. "Where do you stop?"

He added, "I don't think this addresses the underlying problems with the industry."

Bishop said, "It's frustrating because I want to help automakers out" — but he added that the bill for him simply contained too many problems to support.

"I just came from a seminar where we talked about how we could save the industry, and most of us agreed about what should be done, but this bill includes none of that. With this, they will be back in the same situation in March," Bishop said. "And none of us (Republicans) saw the bill until 20 minutes before debate."

Cannon could not immediately be reached for comment.

Democrats and the Bush White House hoped for a Senate vote as early as Thursday and enactment by week's end. They argued that the loans authorized by the measure were needed to stave off disaster for the auto industry — and a crushing further blow to the reeling national economy.

The legislation would provide money within days to cash-starved General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC. Ford Motor Co., which has said it has enough to stay afloat, would also be eligible for federal aid.

Republicans were preparing a strong fight against the aid plan in the Senate, not only taking on the Democrats but standing in open revolt against their party's lame-duck president on the measure.

The Republicans want to force the companies into bankruptcy or mandate hefty concessions from autoworkers and creditors as a condition of any federal aid. They also oppose an environmental mandate that House Democrats insisted on including in the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the Senate would debate the legislation through the weekend if necessary.

President-elect Barack Obama backs emergency bridge loans for Detroit's automakers in exchange for a restructuring of their businesses. So does President Bush, who sent Vice President Cheney and White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten to lobby Senate Republicans at their weekly lunch.

Afterward, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told reporters, "They probably left with less support" than they came in with. "There's less than a handful of votes in there."

The bill would create a government "car czar" named by Bush to oversee assistance for American automakers. That official would have the power to force the companies into bankruptcy in spring if they don't make the necessary deals with labor unions, creditors and others to become viable.

The bill would limit executive pay, ban so-called golden parachute severance packages for departing executives and force the automakers to sell their corporate jets. It would give GM and Chrysler up to $15 billion in loans. It sets terms for Ford Motor, which has said it will not take a loan but will ask for a $9 billion credit line.

"It's a bill that will provide bridge financing to one of two possibilities," Joel Kaplan, Bush's deputy chief of staff, told reporters Wednesday. "Fundamental restructuring or bankruptcy."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that while "there is a great deal of reluctance" to bail out automakers, letting them fail would be catastrophic for the economy.

"Without this bridge, we're going to fall into the greatest calamity since the Great Depression," Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said on the House floor.

Meanwhile, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., finance committee chairman, objected to a provision designed to help transit agencies. He said in a statement that the provision, involving certain leases, "really just helps the banks that entered into these sham transactions in their attempts to avoid taxes."

Also included in the bill passed by the House is an unrelated pay raise for federal judges.

Contributing: Lee Davidson, Deseret News; Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Associated

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