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White House, Obama Urge Continued Efforts to Aid Auto Companies


U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is urging Congress and the Bush administration to "find a way" to aid the battered U.S. auto companies.

He spoke Friday after a $14 billion rescue plan failed to pass the Senate Thursday night.

White House officials say they might help the auto industry by using some of the $700 billion set aside to aid the banking industry. That is a major change for the Republican Bush administration, which has previously resisted requests from Democratic congressional leaders to use that fund.

Officials at the U.S. Treasury say they "stand ready" to prevent the failure of the automakers until Congress reconvenes to address the issue.

General Motors and Chrysler have said they need about $14 billion to keep operating. The Bush administration has said the failure of one of the major automakers could cost one million jobs at a time when the U.S. economy is already in recession.

GM officials say they will be cutting about one-third of their production in North America in the first three months of next year. The company will cope with declining demand by temporarily closing 21 factories which would otherwise produce 250,000 vehicles. Automakers face the worst sales slump in 26 years.

A new economic report Friday shows the auto industry's problems are affecting the U.S. economy, as declining car sales pushed overall retail sales down by 1.8 percent in November. Retail sales are crucial because they drive about two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

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