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Published: Monday, 12/8/2008

Congress sends White House U.S. auto aid proposal


WASHINGTON Congressional Democrats on Monday sent the White House a draft of a roughly $15 billion US auto industry bailout they aim to bring to a vote this week, but White House officials gave a cool initial response.

The measure would rush bridge loans to Detroit's struggling Big Three but would also demand that the auto industry restructure itself in order to survive and would put an overseer chosen by President George W. Bush in charge of monitoring that effort, according to a draft obtained by The Associated Press.

The White House had just begun evaluating the Democratic language, according to officials who would comment on the continuing negotiations only on condition of anonymity. But they said the draft did not appear consistent with the principles behind a broad agreement to give long-term financing only to viable companies. They said it was hard to tell definitively whether their doubts were warranted and they would continue talking to Capitol Hill representatives.

In Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said, "While we take no satisfaction in loaning taxpayer money to these companies, we know it must be done." He added, "This is no blank check or blind hope."

Earlier Monday, the White House and a top Democratic lawmaker said they were likely to strike a deal quickly on the multibillion-dollar bailout, which places strict restrictions on the automakers while they're receiving the loans and mandates that the government overseer keep close tabs on their efforts to restructure.

The emergency loans would be drawn from an existing program meant to help the automakers build fuel-efficient vehicles.

Among the requirements included the draft proposal is one that the carmakers getting federal help get rid of their corporate jets which became a potent symbol of the industry's ineptitude when the Big Three chief executives used them for their initial trips to Washington to plead before Congress for government aid.

The White House said the fundamental approach in the language does not appear to meet Bush's main test: that long-term financing with taxpayer dollars only be made available to companies with a viable future in the marketplace. Bush officials believed congressional negotiators were on board with this idea as well.

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