Auto Deal Clearing Major Hurdles

Posted December 9, 2008 at 9:36pm

Though Congressional Democrats and the White House have essentially resolved all the major sticking points on an automaker bailout bill, the current lack of Senate Republican support has made leaders skittish about announcing a deal.

However, Democrats and the White House were very close Tuesday night to finalizing language on the $15 billion rescue plan that the two sides had agreed to in principle late last week. House Democratic aides said they hoped to bring the package to a vote as early as Wednesday and were putting in place special rules to allow them to do so.

But Senate Democrats said they were reluctant to announce any deals until Senate Republicans had a chance to review the measure, and until the Bush White House had a chance to try to sell it.

Senate Republicans were cagey Tuesday about whether they would ultimately support the bill being crafted, even as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continued to decline invitations to join the talks, Democrats said.

Earlier in the day, McConnell panned a Democratic proposal floated on Monday as not going far enough to force the ailing automakers to restructure.

Asked about his refusal to engage in negotiations, McConnell deflected the question Tuesday afternoon, saying, “Well, we’ll see what the product looks like when we get one, if they announce they’ve got one.”

Few Republicans staked out their ground on the measure, and those that did threatened to filibuster it.

“It only takes one of us, and as it currently stands I’m prepared to hold it,” Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said Tuesday afternoon. “Some major changes need to happen to that bill before it can go through.”

Though it was still awaiting final language, the House Rules Committee earlier Tuesday approved a rule allowing for same-day consideration of the bill any day through Saturday, giving maximum flexibility to the leadership.

The package would give the president the authority to name a so-called “car czar” who would be tasked with ensuring a broad restructuring of the domestic auto industry and who would have the power to revoke the loans if the companies failed to comply.

A senior House aide said that the sticking points with the White House were “just about” cleared up by late Tuesday.

Lawmakers still have to get the votes to end a promised Senate GOP filibuster. While House passage appears easier, Democratic leaders face Republican resistance in that chamber as well.