Democratic congressional leaders on Thursday said that the executives of America’s foundering automakers had failed miserably in persuading Congress or the public that $25 billion in aid from the government would be well spent, and they gave industry leaders 12 days to come back with plans showing otherwise.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, and the Senator majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said at a joint news conference that any legislative proposal put to a vote this week would have failed, and they leveled scathing criticism at the executives that included pointed barbs for flying to Washington this week on private company jets.
The comments indicated that after two days of hearings, the auto executives had hurt rather than helped their cause. Lawmakers who just days ago were calling loudly for $25 billion in aid from the Treasury’s $700 billion bailout instead said that they were unconvinced that taxpayer money could save the industry from disaster.
“It’s all about accountability and viability,” Pelosi said. “Until we can see a plan where the auto industry is held accountable and a plan for viability on how they go into the future — until we see the plan, until they show us the plan, we cannot show them the money.”
Pelosi and Reid called their news conference to pre-empt a bipartisan plan offered by senators from the states with big stakes in the auto industry, including Sen. Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. Those senators proposed speeding up access to $25 billion in loans for the automakers that have already been approved by Congress and signed by President Bush by easing restrictions on that money.
The congressional leaders said the Bond-Levin plan could not win passage this week. Instead, they said, the House and Senate will hold hearings the week of Dec. 2 to consider plans put forward by the industry.
If the plans pass muster, they said that they were prepared to call Congress back in session to consider legislation the following week. The hearings will be run by Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the banking committee.
“Unfortunately, the sad reality is that no one has come up with a plan that can pass the House and the Senate and be signed by President Bush,” Reid said.