Democrats expected to bail out the automakers to the tune of $75 billion of taxpayers money
WASHINGTON – Leading Democrats expect U.S. automakers will show Congress next month they are worth rescuing and are capable of returning to global pre-eminence. Skeptical Republicans said Sunday that Detroit's Big Three needed to convince taxpayers that they deserve an emergency $25 billion lifeline.
With the survival of a major manufacturing at stake, a top adviser to President-elect Barack Obama warned the companies that there is little the government can do without a viable plan to retool and restructure.
Executives from Detroit's Big Three returned home after a pair of disastrous hearings on Capitol Hill last week, under orders from Democratic leaders to provide Congress with a detailed accounting by Dec. 2 of their financial condition and short-term cash needs, as well as a plan for viability over the long term.
Hearings are expected the week of Dec. 1. Lawmakers could consider legislation the following week if they are satisfied by the companies' responses.
"My expectation is that we are going to see something, that the auto companies are going to respond in a way that I think will give confidence to the Congress and to the American public that we need to assist these companies," said the House's second-ranking Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Asked in a broadcast interview about passing a bailout in December, Hoyer replied: "I'm hopeful that we will come up with the information that will justify doing so."
Added House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif: "We want to be their partners to go forward. ... and if we're going forward, to be pre-eminent in the world, and we think that that opportunity is there."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Congress cannot provide money without a plan for the future. "There can be. There will be. And then Congress will step up to the plate."
But the House Republican leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, was less certain the automakers would change enough minds by next month.
"I'm not sure that they will have a plan by early December, a real plan. And on behalf of the American taxpayers, they're not interested in investing money that — it's going to be really thrown away," Boehner said.
"At the end of the day, it's not about convincing me. It's about convincing the American taxpayer that they're making an investment in a viable corporation," he said.
The top Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee questioned whether $25 billion would be enough. "I don't believe $50 billion will be. I believe it will take several hundred billion, and still, they might not make it," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who favors bankruptcy reorganization if necessary.
Obama has advocated accelerating a $25 billion loan that Congress had authorized for automakers to retool and manufacture more energy-efficient cars, but Democrats say that would undercut a major environmental effort. He has said the government needs to help the industry but "it can't be a blank check."
"I think he feels strongly that the signal that was sent by Congress was the right one," Obama adviser David Axelrod said. "We all have a stake in the survival and the prosperity of the auto industry. Millions of jobs depend on that. But in order to do that, they're going to have to retool and rationalize their industry for the future. And if they don't do that, then there's very little that taxpayers can do to help them."
U.S. automakers are struggling to stay afloat heading into 2009 amid an economic meltdown, a precipitous drop in sales and a tight credit market. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler LLC went through nearly $18 billion in cash reserves during the last quarter, and GM and Chrysler have said they could collapse in weeks.
Detroit's car makers employ nearly a quarter-million workers, and more than 730,000 other workers produce materials and parts that go into cars. If just one of the automakers declared bankruptcy, some estimates put U.S. job losses next year as high as 2.5 million.
Axelrod, Schumer and Shelby were on ABC's "This Week," while Hoyer and Boehner appeared on "Fox News Sunday." Pelosi was interview on "Face the Nation" on CBS.