Senate GOP Unmoved on Release of Bailout Money

Posted January 14, 2009 at 5:40pm

Despite a direct appeal for support, top Obama administration aides appeared to do little on Wednesday afternoon to win Senate GOP backing for releasing the remaining installment of economic bailout funds.

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and top economic adviser to the new administration Larry Summers spent more than an hour with Senate Republicans to make the case. Afterward, however, it was unclear whether there was enough buy-in from the Conference to release the remaining $350 billion.

“They’re saying all the right things. We’ll see if it moves anybody,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said, adding that the discussion probably gave “some comfort level for people who were inclined to be for this anyway.”

Thune added: “I’m a hard sell.”

Members of both parties have strongly criticized the Bush administration for not properly managing the first half of the bailout money. Critics also have claimed that the entire program, swiftly passed through both chambers in October to rescue the financial markets, does not include strong enough oversight provisions.

A letter sent earlier this week to Congressional leaders from Summers, in which he continued to promote the bailout plan, hasn’t appeared to calm the fears of many Members wavering on whether to release the money.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that Emanuel and Summers “knew they had a skeptical audience” in the GOP Conference.

“What we’re looking for in this second [installment] of [the Troubled Assets Relief Program] is that it is not going to determine the winners and losers of the economy,” McConnell said at a press conference following the meeting.

Republican support for the bailout program frayed after the Bush administration released funds from the program to the troubled auto industry late last year. The White House move came after the Senate voted down a measure to provide Big Three automakers with a $14 billion emergency loan.

McConnell would not offer details on the meeting with Emanuel and Summers. But the GOP leader did acknowledge that support among Republicans for the funding is tepid at best, saying, “I don’t know about Republican support.”