Bush reconsiders position on automakers

BUSH RECONSIDERS POSITION ON AUTOMAKERS The White House has said, repeatedly, that it has no intention of using TARP money to support the ailing U.S. automakers. Bush expected Congress to pass a new bill, and negotiated with congressional Democrats — congressional Republicans refused to join the talks and/or offer their own legislation for consideration — to strike a compromise.

Now that the deal has collapsed due to GOP obstructionism, the president is reconsidering his position.

In a shift, the White House said Friday morning that it would consider using money from the $700 billion financial bailout to rescue troubled automakers, one day after the Senate abandoned its efforts to pass legislation offering a government rescue to the companies.

Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for President George W. Bush, issued a statement criticizing Congress’s failure to pass an automotive rescue plan that had been negotiated between Democratic lawmakers and the White House. Two of the Big Three, General Motors and Chrysler, have said they are so short of cash that they may not be able to survive through this month without aid, and the third, Ford Motor, is also struggling with weak sales.

“It is disappointing that while appropriate and effective legislation to assist and restructure troubled automakers received majority support in both houses, Congress nevertheless failed to pass final legislation,” Ms. Perino said in the statement. “Given the current weakened state of the U.S. economy, we will consider other options if necessary — including use of the TARP program — to prevent a collapse of troubled automakers.” She said that allowing the economic harm caused by such a collapse would be “irresponsible.”

Separately, an official at the Treasury Department, which administers the TARP, said that the agency was “ready to prevent an imminent failure” of the auto companies.

So, last night didn’t go well, but the matter isn’t quite finished yet.

Speaking of last night, several readers have written to note that the vote to end the Republican filibuster did not fall strictly along party lines. Four Democrats voted with the GOP to block a vote on the bill: Max Baucus of Montana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, John Tester of Montana, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Reid’s vote was purely procedural. Reid supported the legislation, but wanted to reserve the right to bring the bill back to the floor. Under Senate rules, that means he had to vote against it, even though he supported it. This was just a procedural move the Majority Leader frequently uses on failed cloture votes.

As for Baucus, Lincoln, and Tester, they voted with the Republicans because they actually opposed the bill.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.