Senate Democrats Expect Auto Deal

Posted December 7, 2008 at 10:24am

Key Senate Democrats expressed confidence Sunday that a deal to aid automakers would pass Congress this month, even as Republicans reacted cautiously. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said he believes there will be enough votes in the Senate to pass a bill to extend nearly $15 billion in short-term loans to troubled car makers. “I think they will be [there],” Dodd said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” adding, “None of us wants to wake up on Jan. 1 and find we don’t have an industry to save.” Similarly, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin (D) said he is “very confident that there will be a deal,” but when pressed about whether there is enough support among Republicans to pass the measure, Levin said, “That’s a much more complicated question whether the votes are there.” Levin appeared on “Fox News Sunday.” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who appeared on the same program, said he could not yet say whether he would be joined by at least 40 other Senators in mounting a filibuster. Sixty votes are needed to overcome a filibuster. Either way, Shelby predicted an “extended debate” over the tentative agreement between the White House and Congressional Democrats to offer billions of dollars in short-term loans to carmakers. “This is a bridge loan to nowhere,” Shelby said. Under the proposed agreement between Democrats and the Bush administration, the money would come from an existing loan program intended to help the auto industry build more fuel-efficient cars, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she would only agree to use those funds if they were paid back in a matter of weeks by funding elsewhere. U.S. carmakers have said they do not have enough money to continue operating past this month. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said the proposal currently being floated has a better chance of passing than earlier plans, but he said he still had doubts about the willingness of GOP Senators to bail out another struggling industry in a short time frame. Appearing with Dodd on CBS, Sessions said Members are “tired of being stampeded, tired of being threatened” about the imminent failure of major U.S. businesses if Congress fails to act. In October, Congress passed a massive $700 billion bailout of the financial services industry, which has now come under criticism for not doing enough to stem the tide of home foreclosures nor propping up the economy as a whole. President-elect Barack Obama, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” declined to weigh in on the specifics of the emerging proposal but said the auto industry is the “backbone” of U.S. manufacturing. “I don’t think it’s an option to let them simply collapse,” he said. But he said the industry must restructure itself to create a sustainable business model and suggested any bailout should put pressure on the industry to reform itself while allowing the companies to keep the doors open.