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Bush Administration Nears Decision on Helping Auto Industry


President Bush on Thursday said he has not yet decided what government assistance to provide the distressed U.S. automobile industry. The president says he worries about the economic consequences that an automaker bankruptcy could cause.

Mr. Bush said he is concerned about how an uncontrolled bankruptcy could affect the psychology of financial markets. He said he is also worried about putting good money after bad.

The administration is near a decision on what kind of government assistance to provided U.S. car companies. They have asked for $14 billion in loans to assure their survival.

"The president is not going to allow a disorderly collapse of the companies," said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino. "That is not an option. Some people have assumed that is one of things we would decide. That is not going to be the case."

In Detroit, the U.S. automotive capital, the mood is somber. Chrysler - the weakest of the "Big Three" carmakers - is closing all of its U.S. assembly plants for a month, beginning next week. General Motors and Ford are also closing some plants beyond the usual two-week end of year production break. Unionized workers at the plants will continue to receive at least 85 percent of their pay, as stipulated in their contracts.

The credit squeeze and recession have caused U.S. car sales to plummet - down 37 percent in November, 25 percent for the year overall.

Jack Nerad is a marketing analyst for Kelley Blue Book, which keeps close watch on the auto industry.

"I think it is devastating," Nerad spoke to Bloomberg Television. "It is hard to overestimate the importance of this industry and the importance of what is going on right now. It is as if sales absolutely hit a wall in October. They're not recovering. And one of the major industrial corporations of the world-of all time [General Motors] could be on the brink."

It is not just the U.S.-based auto industry that is suffering. Sales of British-made cars in the United Kingdom were down 33 percent in November. And Fiat in Italy is closing all of its production plants for one month because of lagging car sales in Europe.