WASHINGTON - Conservative Republicans admonished the White House yesterday not to use bank-bailout billions to rescue distressed U.S. automakers, and a key Democrat demanded that the government get veto power over the companies' business decisions as a condition of any aid.
The Bush administration said it was still evaluating options and suggested that any deal would require major concessions by all sides. Complicating its task, lawmakers in both parties - having failed to push a $14 billion auto rescue through a bailout-weary Congress - pressed for terms and conditions they said should be part of any Plan B.
"We are not going to be rushed into it," White House press secretary Dana Perino declared.
A day earlier, President Bush suggested that a rescue package would come sooner rather than later. "An abrupt bankruptcy for autos could be devastating for the economy," Bush said Monday. "This will not be a long process, because of the economic fragility of the autos."
Still, conservative Republican lawmakers, many from Southern states that are home to Japanese auto plants, wrote to Bush asking him not to use one of the most readily available pots of money - the $700 billion Wall Street rescue fund - to help the U.S. carmakers.
And the White House and Treasury Department were in talks with Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), who has been pressing for big union concessions in exchange for rescue money, on the terms and structure of a possible bailout, a senior GOP congressional aide said.
Corker came close last week to striking a deal with the United Auto Workers union for a $14 billion bill that would have forced the carmakers to bring their wages and benefits in line with those of Japanese auto companies in the United States by a specific date in 2009. The bill collapsed after the UAW refused to agree to wage cuts that quickly.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D., Mass.) urged Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to adopt the accountability provisions included in a House-passed auto-bailout bill - the product of a deal with the White House - as a condition of any bridge loans to U.S. automakers.
That bill would have given a Bush-appointed overseer say-so over any major business decisions by the automakers while they were taking advantage of federal aid, including the power to nix any transaction of $100 million or more.
Frank wrote to Paulson, "Such safeguards are absolutely necessary to ensure that taxpayers are protected and that the retooling of this critical industry proceeds as quickly as possible."
General Motors Corp. and Chrysler L.L.C. have said they will run out of cash within weeks if they do not get help. Ford Motor Co. has said it has enough cash to survive 2009.
Perino said the administration was still working on details of the package, which could reach $15 billion for GM and Chrysler. She said concessions had to be made in exchange for the money.
Bush said yesterday that his administration was "considering all options" for helping the automakers, arguing that the economy could slide further into recession without prompt action. He told CNN in an interview, "We're trying to get this done in an expeditious way."