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WASHINGTON (CNN) — The House of Representatives handily passed a bill Wednesday night that would provide up to $14 billion in bridge loans to automakers, but Republican opposition cast doubt about the bill’s fate in the Senate later this week.
The U.S. House approved an auto bailout package Wednesday, but it could hit a roadblock in the Senate.
The stopgap measure, approved by a vote of 237 to 170, is designed to let the new Congress and incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama craft a long-term solution. It would also give the companies time to negotiate with creditors and the United Auto Workers union on additional concessions needed to stem their ongoing losses.
Thirty-two GOP representatives voted with 205 Democrats in support of the bill while 20 Democrats and 150 Republicans opposed the bill.
In Michigan, the home of the three major U.S. automakers — Chrysler, Ford and General Motors — eight Republicans joined the six Democrats in the state’s delegation in voting for the measure. A ninth Michigan Republican, Timothy Walberg, did not vote.
Seven other Republicans that voted for the bill are from nearby Midwestern states that are also home to auto plants. However, outside of the auto belt, the bailout had little Republican support.
Even Democrats couldn’t come to complete agreement on the bill, with House and Senate Democrats going their separate ways on one of the criteria the “car czar” must consider in determining an auto company’s long-term viability plan.
House Democrats used language requiring that autos meet stricter “applicable” fuel efficiency and emissions standards — which would cover consideration of state standards such as those adopted in California and New York — while the Senate version of the bill calls for vehicles to meet “federal” standards, which are not as high as some state benchmarks.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide told CNN that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Wednesday morning that the bill would never pass the Senate with the House language.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted the higher efficiency standard so that liberal Democrats who are not inclined to help the auto manufacturers would feel they had assurances that these companies would adopt and make more fuel-efficient cars, according to House Democratic aides.
However, even if language about the fuel efficiency standards is resolved, Senate Republicans still aren’t likely to flock behind the bill.
“I don’t think the votes are there on our side of the aisle,” reported Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, one of few vocal Republican backers of the bill.
“It’s not gonna pass right now,” echoed Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, a fierce critic of the bill.
Voinovich and Shelby spoke after Senate Republicans huddled behind closed doors in the Capitol on Wednesday to weigh the merits of the bailout. Vice President Dick Cheney and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten attended the meeting — called “spirited” by one senator — to sell the bill the White House negotiated with congressional Democrats.
Several senators said they were concerned the so-called “car czar,” created by the legislation, would not have enough power to force the troubled automakers to restructure to become profitable.
“I have concerns about the power of the czar,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, a moderate who Democrats have hoped would vote for the bill, “that he actually has some real power. And I think that’s a concern a lot of my colleagues have right now.”
“The car czar needs the authority to create a de facto structured bankruptcy. Not consulting. Not calling meetings. He needs the capacity of a master of bankruptcy to force things to happen,” said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah.
Some senators oppose any assistance to the automakers, saying they should file for bankruptcy, but White House spokeswoman Dana Perino pointed out that many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle believe that allowing “a disorderly bankruptcy could be fatal to U.S. automakers and have devastating impacts on jobs, families and our economy.”
“As a result, they also agree we should find a way to foster the companies’ restructuring so that they can become viable and profitable,” she 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.”
Other senators said they were concerned that the carmakers might never pay taxpayers back for the loans, meant to keep General Motors and Chrysler afloat until they can finalize a long-term viability plan — by March 31, according to the legislation.
GM has said it needs $4 billion by the end of the month to continue operations, and believes it’ll need an additional $6 billion in the first three months of 2009. Chrysler has said it needs $4 billion by the end of the first quarter.
Ford, which has more cash on hand than its U.S. rivals, is not expected to tap into this bailout in the coming months.
Looks like Barack Obama is looking to use the opportunity to pick George Bush’s mind, somehow George Bush looks a little vulnerable!
WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, received a warm welcome at the White House shortly before 2 p.m. Eastern time by the current occupant, President George W. Bush, a man with whom he expressed a sea of differences during the just-ended election campaign. When the president and Mrs. Bush greeted the Obamas at the driveway on the South Lawn, the women hugged and their husbands shook hands, with Mr. Obama using the two-handed greeting common among senators, with his left hand on Mr. Bush’s right arm during the handshake. The two men were dressed almost identically in dark blue suits, white shirts and blue ties. Ms. Bush wore a brown suit, and Ms. Obama a burnt-orange dress.
A few minutes after the couples entered the White House together, Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama reemerged and strolled along the colonnade past the Rose Garden to the outer entrance to the Oval Office. Mr. Obama walked just at Mr. Bush’s shoulder and appeared to be speaking animatedly, gesturing with both hands. Each of the men waved several times to reporters and others off camera.
While Ms. Bush showed Ms. Obama the White House, their husbands met for just over an hour in the Oval Office, discussing the transfer of power from Mr. Bush’s conservative Republican administration to a presumably much more liberal Democratic leadership.
Mr. Obama saw the Oval Office in person for the first time, just 10 weeks before he will make history by returning as its first black occupant. A physical reminder of the coming change was provided by construction equipment gathered in Lafayette Park across Pennsylvania Avenue from the north side of the White House. The equipment is soon to be put to work building glass-fronted, heated viewing stands where the Obama team will view the inaugural parade on Jan. 20.
As the capital swirled with talk of an expanded bailout package for the troubled American International Group, of unemployment figures that continue to swell, of deep trouble in the auto industry and the urgent financial summit to be convened later this week by Mr. Bush, some of the more pressing issues awaiting discussion by the two leaders on Monday afternoon seemed clear. Similarly, two wars — on which the president and president-elect differ considerably — will demand careful and delicate coordination. As the Obamas were arriving at the White House, several hundred protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue chanted “No More Wars” as they waved signs condemning President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Mr. Obama, who does not plan to attend the financial summit, has said he expected a “substantive conversation” with Mr. Bush on Monday. Such first meetings are governed by no rules but are deeply immersed in tradition. Neither man was expected to issue any extended statement after the meeting, which is taking place unusually early in the transition period.
Josh Bolten, the president’s chief of staff, said on Monday morning that the president and president-elect will be alone in the Oval Office when they meet, without aides present.
“I’m sure each of them will have a list of issues to go down,” Mr. Bolten said during a televised interview with reporters from The Associated Press and The Washington Post. “But I think that’s something very personal to both of them. I know the president will want to convey to President-elect Obama his sense of how to deal with some of the most important issues of the day. But exactly how he does that, I don’t know, and I don’t think anybody will know.”
Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama have had relatively little personal contact before now, and by some accounts, when they have met, there has been some awkwardness.
Mr. Bush told a friend during the 2008 Democratic primary race that he thought Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York was “more experienced and more ready to be president.” But the same friend, speaking anonymously to disclose his private conversation with the president, called Mr. Bush “a realist” who was ready to move on in the nation’s interest; Mr. Bush’s postelection comments have so far been gracious and have emphasized a cooperative approach.
For his part, Mr. Obama and his aides have missed no opportunity to remind Americans that they have only one president at a time.
Even so, Mr. Obama and his team are moving expeditiously to plan the transition and a post-Inauguration agenda that aides said would probably include the quick reversal of some Bush policies, such as his restrictions on stem-cell research and on oil and gas drilling.
One thing is certain: The body language between the Obamas and the Bushes will be widely scrutinized and assessed, to see whether they appear to be comfortable working together or, as was the case with some past transition meetings, are straining just to appear polite.
Mr. Obama flew to Washington Monday morning from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago aboard a chartered American Airlines Boeing Super-80 jetliner. A spokeswoman for Ms. Obama said she flew to Washington separately.
Having had a chance to size up their new accommodations, and those who have occupied them for eight years, the Obamas are scheduled to return immediately afterward to Chicago, where the work of transition will continue.
A spokeswoman for the transition team, Stephanie Cutter, told Reuters today in Chicago that Mr. Obama would announce no Cabinet nominees this week.