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Reid, Pelosi back more aid for ailing U.S. automakers

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for "emergency and limited financial assistance" for the battered auto industry on Tuesday and urged the outgoing Bush administration to join lawmakers in reaching a quick compromise.

Four days after dismal financial reports from General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., Pelosi backed legislation to make the automakers eligible for help under the $700 billion bailout measure passed by Congress in October.

In a written statement, the California Democrat said the aid was needed "in order to prevent the failure of one or more of the major American automobile manufacturers, which would have a devastating impact on our economy, particularly on the men and women who work in that industry."

"Congress and the Bush administration must take immediate action," she added. Administration officials have concluded that the bailout bill that passed earlier does not permit loans to the auto industry, but lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol for a brief postelection session beginning next week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he also will support a bill to qualify automakers for more assistance.

"Next week, during the lame-duck session of Congress, we are determined to pass legislation that will save the jobs of millions of workers whose livelihoods are on the line," Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement. "They deserve no less."

"But until next year, we still have the slimmest of majorities in Senate; this will only get done if President Bush and Senate Republicans work with us in a bipartisan fashion, and I am confident they will do what is right for our economy," he said.

Reid did not specify how much assistance he had in mind for the auto companies.

The plight of the industry has drawn attention from the White House and the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama in recent days, as well as among lawmakers.

Last week, Obama prodded the Bush administration to do more to help the industry, and on Monday, aides said he raised the issue with President Bush in an Oval Office conversation meant to underscore a smooth transition of power.

Officials familiar with the conversation said the president replied he was open to the idea.

Before adjourning for the elections, Congress passed legislation providing for $25 billion in government-backed loans to the automakers to prod them to retool their factories to make more efficient vehicles.

Since then, executives from GM, Ford and Chrysler LLC and officials in the United Autoworkers union have called for more than that to avert a possible collapse of one of the nation’s most basic industries, including a $25 billion loan to help keep the companies afloat and $25 billion more to help cover future health care payments for about 780,000 retirees and their dependents.

GM and Ford reported last week that they spent down their cash reserves by a combined $14.6 billion in the past three months. Ford officials said the company would slash more than 2,000 white collar jobs.

Pelosi’s statement did not specify how large an aid package she prefers.

Instead, she said she had asked Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to draft legislation.

A companion effort is under way in the Senate.

The Senate is scheduled to meet next week in a postelection session, but until Pelosi issued her statement, it was not clear the House would follow suit.

Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report.

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