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US Lawmakers, President Discuss Deal to Save Automakers

The White House says it has had "constructive" talks with congressional leaders on a deal to prevent the country's ailing auto industry from collapsing.

But in a statement Saturday, Press Secretary Dana Perino said no money should go out unless there is a good chance taxpayers will be paid back.

Senior congressional aides said late Friday that the deal being discussed would give the so-called Big Three automakers - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler - $15 billion to $17 billion in loans.

They say the money would be enough to keep the companies operating for at least the next few months, and that it would come from an existing, multi-billion-dollar program aimed at helping the automakers produce more fuel-efficient cars.

The aides say details of the plan, which will also include significant oversight, still have to be worked out. But lawmakers say they expect to vote on the plan next week.

Plans to rescue the auto industry took on added significance Friday after the U.S. government reported the country lost 533,000 jobs in November - the steepest monthly employment decline in 34 years.

U.S. President George Bush said he is concerned about the flood of lost jobs, but that his administration is working to deal with the causes of the problem - the housing market collapse and tight credit.

Officials say the Bush administration and the Treasury Department may also move ahead with more initiatives to bolster the economy, and that they may ask Congress to release the second half of the $700 billion financial rescue package. Almost $350 million has already been spent.

Earlier Friday, executives from automakers Ford, Chrysler and General Motors appeared before the House Financial Services Committee, seeking up to $34 billion in government aid. The companies, and the autoworkers union, have warned that without a government loan, millions of jobs could be lost.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.