Auto bailout bill not yet a done deal
Congressional Democrats and the White House resolve some sticking points on loan for the Big Three but some Republicans may try to slow passage of the bill.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A late meeting Tuesday of congressional Democrats and the White House concerning assistance to U.S. automakers broke up with some progress but no deal, two senior aides to Senate Democrats told CNN.
Democrats first sent the $15 billion proposal to the White House on Monday. The proposal would provide struggling automakers General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) and Chrysler LLC with cash needed to get them through the year.
Two key issues remain: Whether to block the auto companies from suing states over their greenhouse gas emission standards and how the bill can ensure taxpayers can get repaid for loans to Chrysler, a privately held company, in the event of a bankruptcy.
Congressional Democrats want to add language that they can reach up to Chrysler's holding company, Cerberus Capital Management, if that happens, but the White House is "pushing back" according to one Democratic aide.
The talks did resolve two sticking points, however.
One dealt with a provision that any expenditure of more than $25 million by the three automakers would have to have to get prior government approval. That limit has been raised to $100 million to satisfy some Republicans who considered the requirement too burdensome.
The second resolution involved the ability of the government to revoke the loans if the companies weren't restructuring in a way the government found satisfactory. Language in the initial plan said the government "could" revoke the loans in that event; it has been changed to "shall.
"The hammer is the loans get called," said one of the aides.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said Tuesday night that "a great deal of progress has been made on auto legislation that will protect the taxpayer and ensure that short-term financing is available only to companies prepared to undertake the dramatic restructuring necessary to become viable and competitive."
Perino added that the White House planned to "continue to work with Congress to finalize legislation the President can support."
Both the House and Senate were prepared to take up the legislation as early as Wednesday but a decision hasn't been made about which chamber will vote first.
In the Senate, a group of fiscally conservative Republicans were set to announce Wednesday they would try to filibuster the bill. However, it is not clear if the handful of senators can block the bill -- although they should be able to drag out final passage through the weekend.
GOP Senator John Ensign said Tuesday he will filibuster the auto bailout unless there are major changes in the compromise that Democrats and the White House are close to forging.
An Ensign aide tells CNN that he will hold a press conference at noon Wednesday with about half a dozen GOP senators who intend to support his move.
It is important to note that even GOP opponents concede that the auto bailout may likely have the 60 votes to pass, but these GOP senators are trying to "slow the trains down to make a point," according to the Ensign aide.
South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint, who plans to appear with Ensign at Wednesday's press conference, said he fully supports "extending debate" on the auto bailout legislation.
"This bailout will hurt taxpayers, it won't help the economy, and it will prevent these car companies from becoming competitive. The only way for the automakers to survive is a complete restructuring that allows them to break free from the stranglehold of union bosses," said DeMint.
Not all Senators opposed to the Detroit bailout bill support a filibuster. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), said Tuesday he thought a filibuster would be unnecessary since he believes Democrats will likely have the 60 votes to pass the auto loan anyway.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has threatened to keep the Senate through the weekend to complete the bailout.
"The ball is in the Republicans' court about when we vote," said a senior Democratic leadership aide.
"We hope to hear more soon about whether they will give us consent to do this quickly or insist that we run out the clock. In short, we will be in as long as it takes to complete action on this."
Senate Republicans will hold a previously planned lunch meeting Wednesday where they will have an intense discussion about the auto bailout.