Corker Could Hold Keys to Auto Deal

Posted December 11, 2008 at 2:12pm

With it becoming increasingly apparent that an auto industry bailout cannot overcome a Senate filibuster, Democratic leaders began huddling with union representatives and Republicans on Thursday afternoon to see if a new compromise could come together based on a proposal by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Corker said he believes his measure to require car company bondholders to write down their debt, as well as force auto workers to take a pay cut, has “potentially real momentum right now.”

Corker said he was open to changing his bill, which would provide automakers with an infusion of loans immediately, but would require them to file for bankruptcy by the end of March if bondholders and union workers do not agree to reduce the company’s debts.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) described the situation as “still very fluid,” but he said Democrats and union leaders would likely be unwilling to agree to Corker’s language calling on auto workers to accept a pay reduction in order to be in parity with wages at foreign-owned auto plants.

“We can’t have Congress setting wage rates by statute,” Conrad said.

Democrats and Republicans acknowledged that getting 60 votes for any of the current proposals — including the version Corker has drafted — appeared unachievable as of Thursday afternoon.

“The combination of Democrats who oppose it or aren’t here and Republicans who oppose it or aren’t here, I think, makes it very difficult for them to figure they could get it passed,” Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) proposed earlier in the day to vote on three measures: the Corker bill, a measure drafted by Senate Democrats and the White House, and a slightly different measure passed by the House last night. Votes today are still possible, but any measure that comes up with likely be forced to overcome a filibuster-proof, 60-vote threshold.

One of the few Republicans who supports bailing out the auto industry said he hopes the Corker plan can be the basis for a bailout, given the lack of support for anything else.

“I think if it happens and the Democrats are willing to come on board, we’ll get something done. On the other hand, if it falls apart, then all we’ll have before us is something that the administration has negotiated,” Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said. “I’m hoping that the Holy Spirit will work, and we’ll be enlightened and understand how serious this situation is for the whole country.”