WASHINGTON - The White House says the weak economy can't afford the collapse of the nation's automakers.

White House press secretary Dana Perino cited the latest bad economic news - a jump in jobless claims to the highest level in 26 years - in arguing for Senate passage of a bailout package for the Big 3 automakers.

Perino said today that the economy was in such a weakened state that adding another one million people to the unemployment rolls from an auto industry failure was not possible. She said: "We don't think the economy can sustain it."

Perino called the legislation, opposed by some Senate Republicans, a reasonable approach.

She said that President Bush and other administration officials would be lobbying skeptical senators today to vote for the bill.