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US Automakers to Ask Congress for Help

Members of Congress have returned to Capitol Hill for a post-election session to consider new measures to help the faltering U.S. economy, including the automobile industry, which has faced plummeting sales, plant closings and thousands of job losses. President Bush and Republican lawmakers say they can not support a Democratic Party plan to help America's struggling auto industry, which has suffered from rising fuel costs and the shrinking economy. The Democrats are backing a plan to use $25 billion from the economic rescue plan to help U.S. automakers. But the Bush administration says it would be a mistake to make the money available to the car manufacturers without requiring them to restructure and become more competitive. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Democratic congressional leaders would like to use $25 billion of the $700-billion financial rescue package passed last month to help the ailing automobile industry.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a Neveda Democrat:

"We are seeing a potential meltdown in the auto industry, with consequences that could impact directly on millions of American workers, and cause further devastation to our economy," said Senator Reid.

But congressional Republicans and the Bush administration oppose using part of the financial rescue package to help automakers. They argue the money was never intended for the auto industry, but to help struggling financial institutions.

Some Republicans say bailing out automakers would only reward those companies for mismanagement.

Senator Chris Bond is a Missouri Republican:

"I do not support a blank check from the government [to the auto industry]," said Senator Bond. "I want to make sure we are not throwing good money after bad."

Republicans, including the Bush administration, believe that any help for automakers should come from a $25-billion loan program approved by Congress in September to help the industry develop more fuel-efficient cars.

At least one Democrat, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, agrees.

"It is this senator's judgment that there should be no bailout of the American automobile industry," said Senator Nelson. "There should not be a reward for poor management. But because of the American jobs at risk, because of American manufacturing at risk, I support a federal loan with serious restrictions.

Proposed aid for the auto industry is expected to be the focus of a Senate Banking Committee hearing Tuesday, when the top executives of the big three U.S. automakers - Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors - are to testify.

The issue was also on the agenda at a closed-door meeting between House Democrats and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke Monday.

Aid for automakers is expected to be part of a broad economic aid plan to come before the Senate this week. But prospects for passage of the plan, which would include billions of dollars for road and bridge rebuilding, appear dim. Senate aides predict the most that will be approved by lawmakers is an extension of unemployment benefits.

President-elect Barack Obama, who formally resigned his Senate seat Sunday, has said, if a sweeping economic aid plan is not passed by Congress now, it would be at the top of his agenda after he takes office in January.