The head of the United Auto Workers union made a public plea Sunday for government help for U.S. carmakers as the Big Three put the final touches on stabilization plans to submit to Congress.
"We cannot afford to see these companies fail," said Ron Gettelfinger, the UAW chief, calling on Congress to approve the aid during a special session the week of Dec. 8.
Gettelfinger said a $25 billion rescue plan for the carmakers is "not a bailout, this is a loan — a bridge loan — that will get us through until we can take a longer-term look at exactly what needs to be done in the industry."
Democratic leaders are demanding blueprints from Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. before they will schedule votes on any new federal aid. The plans, due Tuesday, are to be scrutinized at a Senate hearing Wednesday and a House hearing on Friday.
If lawmakers like what they see, Congress may reconvene the following week to consider the auto bailout.
Members of Congress remain deeply divided on the aid, with many in both parties wary of supporting another costly government rescue on the heels of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he would not back the help for the U.S. auto industry.
"I don't believe it is a good idea to take $25 billion and give it to the three major car companies, which I think have a business plan that's doomed to fail," he said.
Like many Republicans and some Democrats, Graham said it would be better to allow one or more of the struggling companies to go under and restructure in bankruptcy.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, said she's willing to consider an auto bailout, but not before Congress gets a clear accounting of the companies' financial situation.
"We need to behave like a bank," McCaskill said. "And we need to make sure that we get all of those internal financials and that we feel comfortable that this is a good investment for the American taxpayer."
The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday on the automakers' plans. The House Financial Services Committee has set a Friday session.
"They have to show a plan that shows that the $25 billion gets them to the point of viability," said Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, a member of the Senate committee. "They have to show us a plan of how they're going to restructure their industry. They have to show us a plan about not opposing higher fuel efficiency (standards). If they do those things, there will be support for them."
The UAW is willing to consider more concessions on wages and benefits as part of any new federal aid, Gettelfinger said, but other parties have to share in the sacrifice.
"We're prepared to go back to the table," Gettelfinger said. Still, he added, "Based on the changes we've made to our contracts, we are competitive" already.
In return for new federal loans, leading Democrats want the Big Three to agree to eliminate lavish executive pay packages and dividends; reimburse taxpayers; share future profits with the government; and show how they will meet fuel-efficiency standards and cover their health care and pension obligations to workers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both Democrats, have ordered Chrysler, Ford and GM executives to address all those issues in the plans they submit to Congress.
Gettelfinger and Menendez spoke on CNN's "Late Edition." Graham and McCaskill were on "Fox News Sunday."