Four senators reach bipartisan auto aid deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four senators have reached a bipartisan agreement on a bill to assist the struggling automotive industry, the lawmakers announced in a joint statement on Thursday.

A news conference was planned for 2.30 p.m. “to discuss the details of a bipartisan agreement on a bill to support the auto industry,” the statement said.

The lawmakers involved are Michigan Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, as well as Ohio Republican George Voinovich and Missouri Republican Christopher Bond.

Details of the agreement were not immediately available.

U.S. automakers General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler have been pleading for $25 billion in emergency government aid to weather a steep business downturn. The CEOs of all three companies testified before two congressional committees this week, but came away empty-handed.

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Shares of GM and Ford turned positive on news of the compromise bill. Chrysler is privately held.

The White House favors using $25 billion already authorized and appropriated through the Energy Department to provide loans for ailing automakers.

Democratic leaders in Congress have argued for carving out $25 billion from the $700 billion financial rescue fund.

Even with a deal among Senate negotiators, the legislation faces hurdles. There would have to be agreement among all 100 senators, which is rare, to allow the bill to come to a quick vote in the Senate.

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If that agreement is not reached, the earliest a vote might come is on Saturday and it was unclear if lawmakers would stay in Washington that long ahead of the November 27 Thanksgiving holiday.

Plus, any bill likely would need at least 60 votes to overcome anticipated procedural hurdles by opponents.

Also unclear is whether the House of Representatives would stay in session late this week.

Another possibility is a vote on an auto bill sometime after the Thanksgiving holiday. Earlier this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ruled out a post-holiday session. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would talk to Pelosi later on Thursday about having another short work session.

Reid and Pelosi are scheduled to meet later on Thursday to discuss timing of legislation.

House Democratic support is crucial for passing any compromise.

Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and John Crawley; Editing by Tim Dobbyn.