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Unconvinced Congress Tables Auto Decision

Pelosi and Reid offered little guidance on what they now expect from the automakers. Frank said increasing the production of energy-efficient vehicles will be "central."

Democrats' latest effort hews closely to an approach outlined by President-elect Barack Obama, who has said the automakers should receive government help but with tough conditions.

It's not clear where cash for the automakers would come from. Democrats had proposed carving $25 billion out of the Treasury rescue program, but the White House opposes that idea, saying the money is needed to stabilize the banking system. Administration officials favor modifying an existing $25 billion low-interest loan program aimed at helping the automakers retool their factories and build more fuel-efficient vehicles. But Pelosi has ruled that out, saying the loan program should be used for its original purpose.

Whatever the source of the cash, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who will chair the hearings in the Senate, said $25 billion should be the upper limit when automakers rework their requests.

Dodd said he also wants to explore the idea of a bankruptcy in which the companies work out agreements to restructure with suppliers, lenders and labor, potentially supported by government help.

Bennett, who is close to Senate GOP leaders, said many Republican lawmakers also want a clear explanation of "why bankruptcy isn't an option."

Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a member of the Senate Banking Committee, said auto executives "hurt themselves tremendously this week."

"They've got to talk with us like adults," he said.

Staff writer Dan Eggen contributed to this report.

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