Auto chiefs go empty-handed

Keeping Up the spirit: Wall Street job-seekers and recruiters gather at a “Wall Street Pink Slip Party” at the Manhattan bar Public House on Tuesday.

Keeping Up the spirit: Wall Street job-seekers and recruiters gather at a “Wall Street Pink Slip Party” at the Manhattan bar Public House on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: AFP

David M. Herszenhorn and Bill Vlasic

WASHINGTON: The chief executives of Detroit’s Big Three automakers — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler — departed Washington empty-handed on Wednesday night after two days of pleading for a financial lifeline on Capitol Hill.

As the hearings and intense behind-the-scenes negotiations appeared to come to naught, Senate majority leader Harry Reid went to the floor seeking to bring up the Democrats’ plan to provide $25 billion in aid from the $700-billion financial bailout programme. The Republicans objected, effectively killing the plan.

Senator Christopher S. Bond then requested that the Senate consider a compromise measure that would speed access to $25 billion in federally subsidised loans that have been signed into law by President Bush. Those loans, however, were meant to help the auto companies retool their plants to make fuel-efficient vehicles, so Reid objected to that.

In an interview on Wednesday evening in his Washington office, Rick Wagoner, chief executive of General Motors, the most imperilled of the auto companies, struggled to remain upbeat after two days of gruelling testimony.

Legislators had criticised Mr. Wagoner and the two other chief executives for failing long ago to build better cars or to revamp their operations. They were even attacked for travelling to Washington in corporate jets, which some lawmakers mocked as hardly a sign of frugality.

“This is all part of what we signed up for when we made this request,” said Mr. Wagoner, seeming drained and uncertain of what would come next. “We knew we needed to testify and come down and tell our story, and we know the Congress needs to decide if it’s going to act and how it’s going to act. We don’t think realistically one should have expected an answer tonight, and I still remain hopeful.”

But with the House set to adjourn at the end of Thursday, the automakers were left with only the dimmest of hopes that Congress would provide any assistance this year.

And though Mr. Reid did not completely close the door to a deal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly expressed strong opposition to the core of Mr. Bond’s proposal.

In a sign of the pessimism among congressional Democrats, majority leader Steny H. Hoyer told legislators on Wednesday that no House votes were expected on Thursday, meaning the Senate was not expected to send over any legislation for approval.

Mr. Wagoner met congressional leaders late on Wednesday before leaving for Detroit, and while he declined to say if he expected some last-minute aid package, he said GM would welcome any form of assistance. — New York Times News Service

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