The House began consideration of the Chrysler loan guarantee bill yesterday amid signs that a last-minute compromise worked out earlier in the week has satisfied some of the measure's opponents.
In opening debate on the proposal, at least two staunch critics of the bill, Reps. Harold S. Sawyer (R-Mich.) and Jim Leach (R-Iowa), announced they would support the compromise, and sponsors claimed other converts as well.
At the same time, however, a possible hitch developed in the Senate as majority leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) denied he had promised to take up the Chrysler bill next week, as House leaders had reported.
Although Byrd still could schedule the Chrysler bill in time for action this session, his assertions yesterday raised some new uncertainty about the measure. The Senate is bogged down on the "windfall profits" tax proposal.
The switchovers in the House yesterday bolstered prospects that the Chrysler bill will pass that chamber relatively unscathed. The House is expected to get down to business on the legislation on Tuesday.
Sponsors say they still expect a spate of floor amendments next week, but are more confident in the wake of the compromise that the overall legislation will pass. The outlook in the Senate is somewhat less certain.
The major element in the compromise engineered on Wednesday was to double the amount that Chrysler's unionized employes must contribute in financial aid to the firm, raising it to $400 million, from $200 million before.
The change was designed to mollify critics who had complained that the earlier version of the bill did not require enough from United Auto Workers members while stopping short of the outright wage freeze demanded by the Senate bill.
The compromise also would boost the position of the federal government in case the company reneges on its new loans, placing it just behind small suppliers and state and local governments in making claims on liquidated assets.
The bill now likely to come before the Senate would make much stiffer demands on both the company and the UAW, requiring not only a wage freeze but a gift of some $250 million in stock from Chrysler stockholders to workers.
Yesterday's House floor debate was relatively routine, with House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill (D-Mass.) warning that if the loan guarantee legislation does not pass the resulting unemployment "could kick off the recession."
However, Rep. Richard Kelly (R-Fla.), a persistent opponent of the bill, refused to be silenced, repeating his earlier assertions that "Chrysler will not make it, either with or without bailout."
At one point, Kelly told his colleagues that "it's been suggested that I lower my voice, but I'm excited about being robbed." He said private banks would not lend Chrysler the money, but Congress could "because your judgment is already suspect."
The compromise legislation would provide for $3.3 billion in new aid to Chrysler -- $1.5 billion in federally guaranteed loans and $1.83 billion in monies raised by banks, unions, suppliers and state-and-local governments.
The $400 million "contribution" to be made by the company's union employes most likely would result from forgoing part of the wage boost the UAW won last fall. That pay hike would amount to $1.3 billion over three years.