CongressReturns 11-17

Ailing auto industry awaits returning lawmakers

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Associated Press Writer


WASHINGTON (AP) — A bailout for the nation’s ailing automobile industry tops the agenda as lawmakers return to work this week to name leaders and reorganize committees for the new Congress convening in January.

Democrats want to use part of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout for emergency loans to help prop up Detroit’s Big Three carmakers — a plan opposed by the White House. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC are seeking an infusion of $25 billion, a figure that several Senate Democrats embraced Sunday.

Senate Democrats plan to introduce legislation Monday attaching an auto bailout to a House-passed bill extending unemployment benefits. A vote was expected as early as Wednesday.

"There’s a high degree of urgency" for federal action if GM is going to stave off a financial crisis, Rick Wagoner, GM chairman and chief executive, said Sunday in a joint appearance with United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger on WDIV-TV in Detroit.

"It’s really time to move on this," Wagoner said.

A White House alternative would let the car companies take $25 billion in loans that had been previously approved to develop fuel-efficient vehicles and use the money for more immediate needs. Congressional Democrats, however, oppose the White House plan as shortsighted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has embraced an auto bailout, though she hasn’t set a price tag. But passage is less certain in the Senate, where majority Democrats will need at least a dozen GOP votes to prevent opponents from blocking their measure.

On Sunday top Republican senators said using any of the Wall Street bailout money to help carmakers would be a mistake. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama called the U.S. auto industry a "dinosaur" whose demise would simply be stalled by a bailout.


"I don’t believe the $25 billion they’re talking about will make them survive," said Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. "It’s just postponing the inevitable."

Shelby spoke on NBC’s "Meet the Press."

Congressional Democrats have some internal power struggles to settle this week.

While Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina are unchallenged for keeping their jobs, the House’s longest-serving member, 82-year-old John Dingell of Michigan, is fighting to keep the chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

Dingell, who’s either headed or been the top Democrat on the 57-member panel since 1981, is being challenged by Rep. Henry Waxman, a California liberal. The committee has sweeping powers over energy, environmental and health care issues.

Waxman’s supporters claim Dingell is too close to his state’s auto industry and electric utilities to be put in charge of writing a bill to stop global warming. Waxman’s critics say Dingell is in better position to get support from the five dozen or more conservative Democrats and some Republicans crucial to passing a bill.

Senate Democrats will have their own showdown Tuesday when they decide whether to strip independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Liberals want Lieberman ousted because of his support for the Iraq war and Republican Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid, and for his speech at the GOP convention criticizing then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. However, Democrats don’t want to see Lieberman bolt to the Republican side.


House Republicans, after losing at least two-dozen seats in the election, face a leadership fight Wednesday. Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, is expected to hold off a challenge by conservative Rep. Dan Lungren of California.

But Boehner is the only major GOP leader in the House likely to survive a shake-up. Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and Conference Chairman Adam Putnam of Florida have already stepped aside. Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor is unopposed to replace Blunt as the No. 2 House Republican, while Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, a Christian conservative, is poised to replace Putnam. Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, who runs the House GOP’s campaign arm, is facing a challenge by Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas.

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