Late Tuesday night, the White House and the Congressional Leadership reached a general agreement on a $15-billion bailout bill for the auto industry. There are still some points that reportedly need to be worked out, and some Senate Republicans remain reluctant to support the package, which could threaten its passage by that body.
But, from what we've seen of the bill so far, here's a quick overview:
* Calls for a $15 billion package of short-term loans for U.S. automakers taken from the Dept. of Energy “retooling” loan program already signed into law. (Few recall that Congress already passed a $25 billion loan program for the automakers in September.)
* Includes a provision that would ALLOW the government to demand early repayment of the loans if the firms were not making adequate progress toward reinventing themselves. This is an option, not mandatory.
* Allows the President to choose whether to appoint a single administrator — referred to as a “car czar” — or a board of Cabinet officials to oversee the loan program.
* Speaker Pelosi has conceded to WH demands that any bailout come from an Energy Dept. loan program already passed for the auto industry, not TARP. However, she has stated that the bill must specifically include provisions to replenish the retooling program -- and do so within weeks. Furthermore, she's been quite vocal about her expectation that Congress will have to send additional funds to Detroit in the new year. Speaker Pelosi hasn't hidden the fact that she considers this just a first step in Detroit's bailout.
* Speaker Pelosi wants the package to include a provision prohibiting the Big Three from opposing state fuel emissions rules. Basically, they'd have to drop their lawsuits in CA and elsewhere against state emissions laws that require the automakers to meet standards that are certainly not cost effective and often not even technologically feasible.