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Updated 2:55 p.m.

House Democratic leaders expressed optimism Sunday that they will reach a deal on a bailout for struggling car companies in the coming weeks and said they are making progress on an economic stimulus package whose price tag could climb as high as $700 billion.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congressional leaders are committed to working out a deal to save the auto industry. “Not helping the auto industry is not an option,” Pelosi said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It’s just a question of how we go forward.”

Democratic leaders ended their lame-duck session last week without passing a measure to send rescue money to Detroit automakers, instead telling car company chiefs to come back with a plan outlining how they will spend the money. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that he expects the executives to produce viable proposals and that lawmakers will be back in the Capitol in early December to work on a bailout.

”I’m hopeful we’ll come up with the information that will justify doing so,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Appearing alongside Hoyer, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he is skeptical that auto executives will produce “a real plan.”

”And on behalf of the American taxpayers, they’re not interested in investing money that is really going to be thrown away,” Boehner said.

Pelosi blasted the auto executives’ appeal for cash last week as “totally inadequate” and said replacing top management at the companies “might have to be an option, but let’s hope we don’t have to get to that point.” She called their compensation packages “staggering” and suggested they invest their own money in their companies “so they have something at risk.”

On the stimulus, neither Pelosi nor Hoyer were ready to name a total cost, but the Speaker said it will be “in the several hundred billion dollar category.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” said the price tag could range as high as $500 billion to $700 billion, with the upper limit tracking with some economists’ suggestions that lawmakers spend 5 percent of gross domestic product to jump-start the economy. “It’s a little like having a new New Deal, but you do it before a depression occurs, not after,” Schumer said.

Hoyer said leaders expect to pass a package in the first weeks of January for President-elect Barack Obama to sign upon taking office.

Hoyer also said Democrats will give early attention to passing the “card check” bill, a measure that would ease the ability of workers to organize in unions. Boehner called the bill “an affront to the American people” and said Republicans would do whatever they could to stop it.

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