The Carter administration said yesterday that it will consider loan guarantees to the financially strapped Chrysler Corp. but rejected the $1 billion, no-strings cash bailout plant that the company had proposed.
Treasury Secretary G. William Miller told a news conference that any loan guarantee proposal from the administration to Congress is likely to amount to "considerably less" that $1 billion. Sources indicated it probably would be in the $500-to- $750 million range.
The administration's first official word on the No. 3 automaker's plea for government assistance was greeted as "good news" by Chrysler Chairman John Riccardo.
Riccardo said the company pledged in meetings with Miller before the announcement to "work closely together [with the government] as we develop a program to return Chrysler to a strong position of profitability."
In action earlier in the day, United Auto Workers officials at Chrysler formally and emphatically rejected the company's bid for a two-year wage and benefit freeze but left the door open to negotiated concessions after a contract pattern is established at the General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. this fall.
"We would take under consideration whatever measures are necessary for the survival of Chrysler Corporation," said UAW President Douglas A. Fraser.
Chrysler asked the government for $1 billion in cash advances on future tax credits late last month after disclosing a staggering second-quarter loss of $207.1 million, the worst in its year history and one of the biggest quarterly losses suffered by any American corporations.
Blaming government regulations in part for its financial woes, the company - the nation's 10th largest - also called for a two-year delay in meeting new auto emission standards.
In disclosing the government's response, Miller rejected the tax-credit proposal, saying the administration "does not favor any proposals for unrestricted tax credits" that "would, in effect, represent interest-free, unsecured, subordinated cash advances from taxpayer funds."
Nor, he said, would assistance be "related to expenditures for compliance with generally applicable evironmental, fuel efficiency or safety standards."
But he said government agencies in charge of these regulations will "continue to consider various Chrysler applications for relief" - apparently indicating some flexibility on the part of the administration on the emissions question.
Miller did not promise Chrysler a loan guarantee, under which the government would be obliged, if the company defaulted, to repay a loan taken out by the company from one or more banks. But he said it would "explore conditions under which it might recommend, subject to congressional approval, financial assistance to Chrysler in the form of, or equivalent to, loan guarantees."
In 1971, Congress, after bitter controversy, approved $250 million in loan guarantees for the Lockheed Corp., which subsequently has regained financial health.
This time Congress appeared receptive to some kind of relief for Chrysler but a number of influential members were balking at the idea of a no-strings cash advance with no guarantee of repayment if Chrysler failed to recover.
Miller said any administration-supported package must be "limited in time, amount and risk to American taxpayers" and include "short and long term considerations" as well as "substantive contributions or concessions from...management, employes, stockholders, creditors, suppliers, other business associates and governmental units."
He said the administration generally views government assistance to private companies as "neither desirable nor appropriate" but believes there may be "occasional, unusual instances where the public interest justifies some governmental aid."
Added Miller: "The administration's willingness to consider aid will depend upon Chrysler's submission of an acceptable, overall financial and operating plan updated to reflect current conditions and prospects."
He said any aid should not set a precedent for other corporate bailouts and asserted that it would not have "any immediate...nor longterm impact on the budget."
As for the $1 billion figure used both by Chrysler and the UAW in separate bailout proposals, Miller said, "My judgment as a businessman tells me it doesn't have to be that high."
Miller also rejected the substance of the UAW proposal, which called on the government to buy stock in the company. "The government does not intend to make any equity investment in Chrysler," he said.
Asked whether government help would be an acknowledgment that excessive regulations helped cripple the company, Miller said: "I don't believe that's correct. I believe the problems here developed over a long period of time. "I don't think finger-pointing does any good."
Rejection of Chrysler's wage-benefit freeze proposal by the UAW representatives at Chrysler had been expected. Fraser had termed it "unacceptable" when it was made last week.
In a statement approved by a 139 to-6 vote at a special meeting in Chicago, the UAW Chrysler Council said Chrysler workers "will do their part but they cannot be expected to accept extreme and unwarranted sacrifices."
UAW-Chrysler negotiators are expected to continue meeting to discuss noneconomic terms but will not bargain on money until after General Motors and Ford settle on new wage-benefit packages. The current auto industry contract expires Sept. 14. CAPTION: Picture, G. WILLIAM MILLER...considering loan guarantees