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Obama in favour of fresh support for car industry

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-17

As Congress braces for a tough vote over a further bailout package for the US automobile industry, President-elect Barack Obama has said that it would be an economic "disaster" for the government to stand by and let the auto industry collapse.

Lawmakers in Congress are bracing for a showdown over Democrats' plan to rescue the struggling US auto industry, with Republicans vowing to derail the 25-billion-dollar bailout bid.

Ahead of Monday's start of a "lame duck" post-election, pre-inauguration session, Democrats plugged their efforts to give a massive cash infusion to struggling "Big Three" automakers: Chrysler, General Motors and Ford.

Democrats want to use part of a 700 billion dollar Wall Street rescue plan approved in September to help bail out the sinking US car sector.

"This is not just about an industry or three companies. This is about jobs -- 350,000 direct, probably as much as three to five million jobs in total reflecting that industry," Democratic US Senator Byron Dorgan argued Sunday on Fox television.

Top industry officials from the Big Three and leading union officials were to appear at congressional hearings in Washington starting Tuesday.

Dorgan said the proposed rescue would provide relief not just to Big Three car makers, but also to the public at large.

"We've got a serious problem. It affects almost everybody in the country," Dorgan said.

"I don't think you long remain a strong economic power in this world unless you have a manufacturing base. And we're talking about a significant part of that manufacturing base as well."

But on the same news network, Republican US Senator Jon Kyl dismissed the effort as political posturing.

"I wonder if that isn't really the point of the exercise this week, since it's pretty clear that it's not going to pass," he told Fox, adding that Democrats would be advised to wait until after the inauguration of president-elect Barack Obama on January 20, 2009.

"I don't speak for every Republican, but I suppose most of us will oppose it as a very bad idea," he said.

The Republican senator added: "The business model of the Big Three automakers, all experts have agreed, is a failing model. It's got to be changed. Just giving them 25 billion dollars doesn't change anything. It just puts off for six months or so the day of reckoning."

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez again floated a White House proposal to use 25 billion dollars currently allotted for building fuel-efficient vehicles to pay for a rescue of the auto sector.

"That bill, that section, can be reworded quite readily and that money can be made available to auto companies," he told CNN Sunday.

Leading Democrats said the idea was a non-starter.

"The president's proposal would unwisely divert money urgently needed for modernization of the US auto industry," House speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement late last week.

Meanwhile, United Auto Workers union chief Ron Gettelfinger urged Congress not to allow the car makers to slide into bankruptcy protection.

"This industry is in a crisis situation not of its own making," Ron Gettelfinger said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Without immediate aid, Gettelfinger said that at least one of the three leading US auto makers would file for bankruptcy, which also would likely cause the demise of other auto parts suppliers, dealerships and related businesses.

The UAW, which represents some 150,000 US auto workers, is urging Congress to approve a "bridge loan" to keep the Detroit, Michigan-based car makers afloat until the economy improves.

The US auto giants say that a 25 billion dollar package of government loan guarantees for the development of fuel-efficient vehicles, passed in early September but still not released, is not enough.

They want another 25 billion taxpayer dollars to forestall their collapse; GM is warning it only has the cash on hand to last a few more months.

Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday, his first since becoming president-elect, that it would be an economic "disaster" for the government to stand by and let the cash-strapped auto industry collapse.

Date created : 2008-11-17