(Updates with Dodd, Grassley comments)
By John Crawley and Rachelle Younglai
WASHINGTON Nov 13 A senior Democratic senator
raised doubts on Thursday that an attempt to bail out U.S.
automakers had enough support to clear Congress this year.
As Republicans amplified their concerns about a bailout,
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd raised the
biggest red flag for fellow Democrats trying to craft a $25
billion rescue and pass it during a post-election session set
to start next week.
"Right now, I don't think there are the votes," Dodd of
Connecticut told reporters about prospects in the Senate. "I
want to be careful of bringing up a proposition that might
fail," he said.
Although Dodd said "we ought to do something" and
personally backed using money from the ongoing $700 billion
financial services rescue program to help Detroit, he was
skeptical that enough Republicans would support a bailout.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, also
cautioned that success of a bailout rests with Senate
Republicans and the White House. With their slim majority,
Democrats cannot force a measure through the Senate or trump a
White House veto.
The White House opposes the approach being taken by
congressional Democrats but has not threatened to block any
bailout. Bush administration officials have said they would
consider other steps Congress can take to help General Motors
Corp (GM.N), Ford Motor Co (F.N) and Chrysler LLC.
Dodd said there have been "legitimate issues raised" about
how to help. He plans to hold a hearing next Tuesday, and a
House of Representatives Financial Services Committee hearing
is set for Wednesday.
House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, a
Massachusetts Democrat, is trying to write a bill that would
amend the financial services rescue package to include $25
billion for carmakers.
The government would likely take an equity stake in the
firms and Congress would impose stiff conditions.
CONCESSIONS FROM AUTOMAKERS
In a letter to automaker chief executives on Thursday, the
senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee recommended
specific concessions from the automakers.
"They should take every step possible, including cutting
executive salaries and bonuses, and exhaust all alternatives
before coming to the taxpayers for tens of billions of dollars
in help," Charles Grassley of Iowa said.
The stakes for action in Washington rose earlier in the day
when Goldman Sachs suspended its rating on GM and said the
automaker needs at least $22 billion in aid. Goldman also said
it would be difficult for Chrysler to survive without help.
House lawmakers are not formally scheduled to meet next
week and Republicans on Thursday voiced greater skepticism
about the rescue approach and Detroit's long-term viability.
Senior Republicans are open to considering changes in terms
of the $25 billion in federal loans approved in September to
help automakers retool factories and make more fuel efficient
vehicles. They do not, however, favor extracting more money
from the Treasury Department's rescue program.
"Spending billions of additional federal tax dollars with
no promises to reform the root causes crippling automakers'
competitiveness around the world is neither fair to taxpayers
nor sound fiscal policy," House Republican leader John Boehner
of Ohio said in a statement.
The administration is also encouraging lawmakers to
expedite the retooling loans, which automakers have said are
loaded with requirements and cannot help them survive their
worst-ever financial crisis.
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, chairman of
the Joint Economic Committee, expects some Republican support
for a bailout but he did not know if it would be enough for
Explaining the White House opposition to using Treasury
bailout money, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said in an
interview with Reuters that a number of other industries have
also knocked on that agency's door asking for help.
"Where do you draw the line?" Gutierrez asked.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, Doug Palmer, Rick Cowan
and Kevin Drawbaugh in Washington and Soyoung Kim in Detroit,
editing by Jackie Frank and Vicki Allen)