WASHINGTON President-elect Barack Obama asked President George W. Bush at their White House meeting on Monday to back immediate emergency aid for the U.S. auto industry, The New York Times reported.
Citing people familiar with the discussion, the Times said Bush indicated he might support some aid to the struggling automakers and a broader economic stimulus package if Obama and Democrats in Congress dropped opposition to a free-trade pact with Colombia.
The Times quoted Democrats as saying neither Obama nor congressional leaders felt inclined to support the Colombian trade deal and might decide to wait until Obama takes office on January 20.
Obama has said he could not support the Colombia agreement until that country does much more to reduce murders of labor unionists and other violence, a view he repeated in his third debate with Republican presidential opponent John McCain.
He also has been vocal since winning the election about immediate support for the auto industry, calling it the "backbone of American manufacturing."
General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler LLC are looking for up to $25 billion in emergency loans that backers say is needed to prevent the industry's collapse. U.S. auto sales are plunging and Ford, GM and Chrysler are burning through billions of dollars in cash monthly.
Top congressional Democrats asked Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in a letter on Saturday to consider aid to the automakers through the financial bailout initiative that has so far covered banks and other financial services companies.
The Bush administration has not dismissed outright the possibility of extending emergency assistance to the automakers.
But public and private statements from administration officials indicated more clearly on Monday that they believe any new and substantial money for manufacturers would require legislative action.
Obama and Bush met privately in the Oval Office for over an
hour in talks thought to have encompassed the global financial crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other daunting challenges the Republican president will bequeath to his Democratic successor.
It was their first face-to-face encounter following Obama's resounding victory over McCain in Tuesday's election.