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Troubled US Auto Industry Seeks Aid From Congress


Top executives from the three major U.S. automakers pressed Congress for aid to prevent their beleaguered industry from collapsing and causing additional harm to the U.S. economy. Lawmakers are considering an aid package to automakers, but prospects for passage appear dim, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

In an appearance before the Senate Banking Committee late Tuesday afternoon, officials of Ford, Chysler and General Motors sought a financial rescue package for their industry, which has faced plummeting sales, plant closings and thousands of job losses.

Robert Nardelli is chairman and chief executive officer of Chrysler:

"We are asking for assistance for one reason: to address the devastating automotive industry recession caused by our nation's financial meltdown," said Robert Nardelli.

Richard Wagoner, chairman and chief executive officer of General Motors, warned of huge economic consequences if Congress does not act.

"What would it mean if the domestic industry were allowed to fail? The cost would be catastrophic in jobs lost, income lost, government tax revenue lost, and a huge blow to consumer and business confidence," said Richard Wagoner.

Many Democrats, including Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, agree.

"The surest way to turn today's recession into a depression would be to let this industry founder," said Senator Brown.

Senate Democrats have introduced a plan to use $25 billion of the $700-billion financial rescue package approved last month to help the auto industry.

The plan would offer loans to automakers and their suppliers and limit pay for executives.

Senate Republicans and the Bush administration oppose that plan, saying the $700 billion was meant to shore up financial institutions, not the auto industry.

Republicans say mismanagement by automakers is to blame for much of the industry's financial troubles, and say the Democrats' rescue plan would do little to restructure the industry. Senator Jim Bunning is a Kentucky Republican:

"It is virtually a blank check that does not require serious considerations or concessions," said Senator Bunning.

But the auto executives say they are streamlining their companies.

Alan Mulally is president and chief executive officer of the Ford Motor Company:

"Few companies have restructured more aggressively," said Alan Mulally. "We have taken out that excess capacity that we talked about earlier, closing 17 plants and reducing our workforce by 51,000 employees."

Republicans believe more needs to be done.

In the meantime, they say any help for automakers should come from a $25-billion loan program approved by Congress in September to promote the development of more fuel-efficient cars.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino agrees.

"We have legislation that is already on the books, where money has already been appropriated to help automakers through the DOE [Department of Energy] loan program," said Dana Perino.

Democrats, who enjoy the support of environmental groups, oppose using funds from that program, which they insist be used to develop cars that use less gasoline.

A Senate vote on the Democrats' $25-billion rescue plan for automakers - which also includes an extension of unemployment benefits - could come as early as Thursday. But aides in both political parties say the plan does not appear to have enough support to pass.

If the plan fails, the Senate would vote to approve the unemployment benefits only. That measure does appear to have widespread support.

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