Obama weighing idea of "auto czar," aide says

CHICAGO Thu Nov 13, 2008 10:19am EST

Chrysler auto assembly workers leave the plant after their shift ends at the Chrysler Warren Truck Assembly in Warren, Michigan, October 14, 2008. L REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Chrysler auto assembly workers leave the plant after their shift ends at the Chrysler Warren Truck Assembly in Warren, Michigan, October 14, 2008. L

Credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama is considering naming a point person to lead efforts to help the distressed auto industry return to health, an Obama aide said on Thursday.

General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler LLC are seeking a federal bailout of up to $50 billion.

Automakers and Democratic congressional leaders have discussed a two-stage process in which government would provide $25 billion in direct loans to meet urgent needs. A second $25 billion would come later and could be applied to a United Auto Workers (UAW) retiree health care trust, freeing up more cash for operations.

An Obama transition official said the president-elect was looking into "identifying someone in charge of the auto issue who would have the authority to bring about reforms that would lead to an economically viable auto industry."

Obama said at a news conference last week that he considered federal help for the industry a high priority for his transition and called the auto companies "the backbone of American manufacturing and a critical part of our attempt to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

He urged the Bush administration to accelerate disbursement of $25 billion in advanced technology loans approved by Congress in September.

Obama, a Democrat who had solid labor-union support during his presidential campaign, also pressed Republican President George W. Bush in a private meeting on Monday to back a federal bailout for the auto industry.

(Reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Bill Trott)

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