House OKs $14 billion auto bailout

December 10, 2008 8:23:58 PM PST
The auto bill cleared its first major hurdle Wednesday by winning passage in the House of Representatives.

The vote stuck close to party lines and the bill was approved with the support of Nancy Pelosi.

The so-called auto bailout is now a federal loan package that has shrunk from $35 billion down to $14 billion.

And, Republicans in the Senate are still threatening to kill it.

The plan is to provide a total of $14 billion in federal loans to General Motors and Chyrsler. Both are in worse financial shape than Ford.

Funds would be handed out by a "Car Czar" appointed by President Bush, with the authority to negotiate deals between automakers, unions, creditors and suppliers. The czar would also be able to require immediate repayment if the companies fail to make adequate progress by February 15th.

The czar could even force the companies into Chapter 11 bankruptcy if there is no viability plan by March 31st.

In a statement Wednesday White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said, "We believe the legislation developed in recent days is an effective and responsible approach to deal with troubled automakers and ensure the necessary restructuring occurs."

"It would be a mistake," said Stanford economist Jonathan Berk, an expert at evaluating the company finances.

"Appointing an overseer with the power the czar is going to have, where he can just pull the plug if he doesn't like what he's seeing, is basically giving the government the power to run the companies. I don't think that's a good idea," he added.

Republicans in the Senate are calling the deal a waste of money.

"This is only delaying their funeral," said Senator Richard Shelby.

Supporters say the loan package protects against golden parachutes for auto executives. The companies would have to sell their private jets. Unused SUV and truck production lines would be converted to make mass transit cars.And, the automakers would have to put more resources into building fuel-efficient models.

Wednesday afternoon House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members of the House, "Green is gold. Green is gold."

But, the deal is missing a provision put forward by California's Attorney General that would have required the industry to stop fighting California's stricter emission standards.

"And the word I'm getting back is that President Bush will not approve the bailout unless that provision is removed," said CA Attorney General Jerry Brown.

The House also added a provision that has nothing to do with the manufacturing of cars or trucks. It protects a tax write-off for companies that buy mass transit rail lines and then lease those lines back to the public transportation agencies that sold them.

Why that is in the bill eludes even the experts.

"Um, yes. Good question. I don't know," said Berk when asked about the provision.

The Senate did not vote on the bill Wednesday. That vote could come Thursday, although it is not clear if the bill has the support needed to pass in the Senate.


Load Comments