Auto Industry Asks Congress for $50 Billion; Insists This Isn't a Bailout

Posted: September 8, 2008

The Big Three Detroit automakers have begun lobbying Congress for up to $50 billion in loans that would help them adjust to a market that demands more fuel-efficient vehicles.   But the automakers insist the loans would not amount to a government bailout of the struggling auto industry.

The AP explains, "With Congress returning this coming week from its summer break, the industry plans an aggressive lobbying campaign for the low-interest loans. The situation is growing dire after months of tumbling sales, high gasoline prices and consumers' abandoning profitable trucks and sport utility vehicles."  Congress has technically authorized $25 billion in loans "to help the companies build fuel-efficient vehicles such as hybrids and electric vehicles."  But the government hasn't provided money to fund that program.  "With credit tight, automakers and suppliers now want lawmakers to come up with the money for the program -- and expand the pool of money available to $50 billion over three years."

The automakers' allies in Congress argue the loans are essential.  Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) told the AP, "This industry could fall down, literally, or be absorbed if they don't get something in place very soon. I think it's that severe."

Reuters adds that the industry is "urging Congress to act by the end of September so that the money can be available next year."  Leaders in both parties "have said they are open to an expanded program. But the industry will face a compressed schedule in an election year when many lawmakers will push to leave Washington so they can campaign for re-election this fall."

Presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain have both endorsed the idea of a government loan to automakers, but it isn't clear how they would respond to this latest proposal. President Bush, for his part, has said the automakers should not expect a bailout.

The automakers, however, don't want us using that word.

Taking a cue from politicians, General Motors has launched a website at that, the automaker claims, refutes myths circulating about the auto giant.  Item one on the website this morning read "Myth: GM is looking for a government bailout."  GM's PR team argues that, since the automaker is asking for loans rather than simply government funds, the move doesn't amount to a bailout.  "GM and other U.S. based companies are literally reinventing the automobile," they write. "This federal direct-loan program is a powerful and appropriate incentive to help spur this transformation, which is vital to our industry, and to the country as a whole."

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