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Democrats Call for Federal Oversight of Automakers

California State Assembly Member Nancy Skinner, right, speaks to auto workers and supporters at a rally outside the San Francisco office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
California State Assembly Member Nancy Skinner, right, speaks to auto workers and supporters at a rally outside the San Francisco office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). (By Ron Lewis -- Associated Press)
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The board would be composed of the heads of six Cabinet agencies -- including Treasury, Energy, Labor, Commerce, Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency -- plus a chairman to be appointed by the president.

Though Bush would have the opportunity to establish the board, his administration would have little chance to exercise its power. Under the Democratic proposal, the board would develop broad restructuring goals for the companies, but it could not compel them to act. The board also would be prohibited from revoking the short-term loans to the auto companies until February, when the board would be in the hands of Obama appointees.

It was unclear yesterday how the legislation would address one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) top priorities: replenishing the loan fund, which was created to help retool factories to produce more fuel-efficient cars.

The proposal also does not mention changing the companies' leadership, aides said. Reacting to Dodd's suggestion to oust Wagoner, GM spokesman Steve Harris said "the employees, dealers, suppliers and the GM board of directors feels strongly that Rick Wagoner is the right guy and best guy to lead us through these tough times."

Democratic leaders hope to bring their plan up for a vote this week, when lawmakers return to Washington for a special session. Dodd said he is optimistic that it would win congressional approval, despite distaste among lawmakers in both parties for the idea of pouring taxpayer dollars into companies on the brink of failure.

"Even people who don't like this idea, none of us want to wake up on January 1 and discover we don't have an industry to save," Dodd said.

Others were less sanguine. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Senate Banking Committee and a staunch opponent of government aid for the car companies, derided the developing plan as "a bridge loan to nowhere." Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Shelby said he may filibuster the proposal in the Senate, a move that would effectively kill it.

Asked whether Democrats have the votes to approve an auto bailout, Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) called that "a complicated question."

Staff writer Kendra Marr contributed to this report.


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