BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The White House said on Sunday it did not expect any announcement on a U.S. auto industry rescue plan before President George W. Bush returns to the United States from Iraq, leaving their fate in limbo.
“I don’t anticipate anything before we return. ... I just don’t expect anything for a while,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters on Air Force One before Bush arrived in Baghdad on Sunday on an unannounced visit.
Perino was responding to a question on whether an announcement would be made during Bush’s trip about tapping a $700 billion financial industry bailout fund to aid General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler LLC.
Perino said she had no timetable for such a decision. Bush was visiting U.S. troops and Iraqi leaders before his presidency ends next month and it was not clear when he would return to the United States.
Lawmakers making the rounds on U.S. television networks on Sunday said they expect the administration to act soon to ward off a collapse of the U.S. auto industry, which could lead to millions of job losses and inflict even greater pain on the recession-mired U.S. economy.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said on CBS’ “Face The Nation” the Treasury Department has been talking this weekend with automakers about their balance sheets.
“I don’t think they yet know what they’re going to do,” said Corker, who added that he spoke with White House officials Sunday morning. He offered no further details.
Corker tried to assemble a compromise plan for U.S. senators that ultimately failed late Thursday due to disagreements over workers’ pay and benefits.
Bush said last week his administration would consider using part of the Treasury’s $700 billion bailout package for financial institutions to keep the Big 3 U.S. automakers going over the short term as they sought lasting solutions.
United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger, the top labor union official, said on CNN’s “Late Edition” that his organization was in discussions with the administration but has been given no sense of timing of any relief.
“We’ve not been given any indication of that at all,” he said.
Some prominent Republican lawmakers oppose bailing out GM, Chrysler and Ford, criticizing them for making inefficient cars that not enough Americans want to buy.
Another route some lawmakers prefer is bankruptcy protection. “In Chapter 11 reorganizations, you have the experts,” Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada said on CNN. “You can make sure that it’s taken outside of politics.”
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week in a letter to U.S. lawmakers the central bank is “extremely reluctant” to lend to car makers.
Additional reporting by John Poirier and Alister Bull; editing by Todd Eastham