"A healthy automobile manufacturing sector is essential to the restoration of financial market stability, the overall health of our economy, and the livelihood of the automobile sector's work force," they wrote. "The economic downturn and the crisis in our financial markets further imperiled our domestic automobile industry and its workforce."
Reid and Pelosi met separately on Thursday with the leaders of the automobile industry and its top union representative to discuss the financial challenges confronting the industry.
"We left the meetings convinced that our nation's automobile industry -- the heart of our manufacturing sector -- and the jobs of tens of thousands of American workers are at risk," Pelosi and Reid said in their letter.
The request comes as auto companies are bleeding cash and jobs. General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. reported Friday that they spent down their cash reserves by a combined $14.6 billion the past three months. Ford said it would slash more than 2,000 white collar jobs.
President-elect Obama said Friday his transition team would explore policy options to help the auto industry. Obama's economic transition team includes two allies of the U.S. auto industry -- Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and former Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich.
Automakers already want an additional $50 billion in loans from Congress to help them survive tough economic conditions and pay for health care obligations for retirees. The companies are seeking the loans as part of an economic aid plan that is now more likely to come together early next year rather than in a postelection session of Congress this month. The $50 billion would be in addition to the $25 billion in loans that Congress passed in September to help retool auto plants to build more fuel-efficient vehicles.