Is this one of those moments that pushes the global economy toward a massive depression?
Senate Drops Automaker Bailout Bid
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday night abandoned efforts to fashion a government rescue of the American automobile industry, as Senate Republicans refused to support a bill endorsed by the White House and Congressional Democrats.
After Senate Republicans balked at supporting a $14 billion auto rescue plan approved by the House on Wednesday, negotiators worked late into Thursday evening to broker a deal but deadlocked over Republican demands for steep cuts in pay and benefits by the United Automobile Workers union in 2009.
The failure in Congress to provide a financial lifeline for G.M. and Chrysler was a bruising defeat for President Bush in the waning weeks of his term, and also for President-elect Barack Obama, who earlier on Thursday urged Congress to act to avoid a further loss of jobs in an already deeply debilitated economy.
“It’s over with,” the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said on the Senate floor, after it was clear that a deal could not be reached. “I dread looking at Wall Street tomorrow. It’s not going to be a pleasant sight.”
Mr. Reid added: “This is going to be a very, very bad Christmas for a lot of people as a result of what takes place here tonight.”
The Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said: “We have had before us this whole question of the viability of the American automobile manufacturers. None of us want to see them go down, but very few of us had anything to do with the dilemma that they have created for themselves.”
Mr. McConnell added: “The administration negotiated in good faith with the Democratic majority a proposal that was simply unacceptable to the vast majority of our side because we thought it frankly wouldn’t work.”
Moments later, the Senate fell short of the 60 votes need to bring up the auto rescue plan for consideration. The Senate voted 52 to 35 with 10 Republicans joining 40 Democrats and 2 independents in favor.
The White House said it would consider alternatives but offered no assurances.
“It’s disappointing that Congress failed to act tonight,” Tony Fratto, the deputy press secretary, said. “We think the legislation we negotiated provided an opportunity to use funds already appropriated for automakers, and presented the best chance to avoid a disorderly bankruptcy while ensuring taxpayer funds only go to firms whose stakeholders were prepared to make difficult decisions to become viable. We will evaluate our options in light of the breakdown in Congress.”
Markets reacted quickly in Asia. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index closed down 5.6 percent after the proposal failed and other markets registered substantial retreats as well.
Immediately after the vote, the Bush administration was already coming under pressure to act on its own to prop up G.M. and Chrysler, an idea that administration officials have resisted for weeks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers called on the administration to use the Treasury’s bigger financial system stabilization fund to help the automakers, but there may not be enough money left to do so.
About $15 billion remains of the initial $350 billion disbursed by Congress and Treasury officials have said that money is needed as a backstop for existing programs.
Democrats instantly sought to blame Republicans for the failure to aid Detroit, while a number of Republicans blamed the union. But on all sides the usual zest for political jousting seemed absent given the grim economic outlook.
“Senate Republicans’ refusal to support the bipartisan legislation passed by the House and negotiated in good faith with the White House, the Senate and the automakers is irresponsible, especially at a time of economic hardship,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement.
She added: “The consequences of the Senate Republicans’ failure to act could be devastating to our economy, detrimental to workers, and destructive to the American automobile industry unless the President immediately directs Secretary Paulson to explore other short-term financial assistance options.”
Senator George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, and a supporter of the auto rescue efforts, said: “I think it might be time for the president to step in.” Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, also urged the White House to act.
So far, the Federal Reserve also has shown no willingness to step in to aid the auto industry.
Democrats have argued that the Fed has the authority to do so and some said the central bank may now have no choice but to prevent the automakers from entering bankruptcy proceedings that could have ruinous ripple effects.