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Lawmakers Seek Restructuring Plan From US Automakers Before Approving Aid

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U.S. lawmakers are demanding that America's big three automakers submit plans for making their companies economically viable before approving federal aid to the beleaguered industry. Under a bipartisan proposal announced Thursday, automakers have until early next month to send Congress their plans. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Democratic congressional leaders say they are prepared to return to Washington next month to continue a post-election session and approve federal loans to the automobile industry if automakers submit plans to restructure by December 2.

"Until they show us the plan, we cannot show them the money," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid echoed the comments. 

"We want to help, but we can only help if they are willing to help themselves," he said.

Senator Reid withdrew legislation to use $25 billion of the $700 billion financial rescue package approved by Congress last month to help the auto industry, saying the plan lacked lawmakers' support.

It also lacked the support of the Bush administration, which argued the $700 billion was meant to shore up financial institutions, not automakers. The administration favored using money from another loan program set up by Congress to help develop more fuel-efficient automobiles. Congressional Democrats had opposed using that money for anything other than developing vehicles that use less gasoline.

But under the bipartisan plan announced Thursday, that loan program could be used to help the auto industry in the short term - if automakers submit restructuring plans, with a guarantee that the account would be replenished.

Senator Chris Bond, a Missouri Republican, led the compromise effort. 

"This bipartisan compromise will protect the millions of American jobs at stake, protect taxpayers and will require the auto industry to come forward with a plan to show how they will get to viability, financial stability and profitability," he said.

In testimony before the Senate and House this week, top executives from General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, appealed for $25 billion in loans, warning that their industry, hurt by a sharp drop in sales and a tight credit market, might collapse without them and further worsen the U.S. economy.

But skeptical lawmakers argued that much of the industry's problems stemmed from mismanagement. House members criticized the executives for flying into Washington on multimillion dollar corporate jets to seek federal assistance.

In separate action Thursday, the Senate voted to extend unemployment benefits for jobless Americans. The House of Representatives had already acted on the measure, which now goes to President Bush for his signature.

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