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Senate Democrats, White House Scramble to Revive Bailout Bill

Corker said he is devising an alternative measure that would require more concessions from both the car companies and the autoworkers’ unions. Many Republicans have advocated from the beginning that troubled carmakers, such as General Motors and Chrysler, should file for bankruptcy protection. And most of the GOP suggestions for changes to the bill involved giving the “car czar” – who would oversee the companies’ restructuring – powers similar to a bankruptcy judge.

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who has GM plants in his state and is one of the few Republicans to support the measure, was visibly angry with the reluctance of his colleagues to save the auto industry.

He said Republicans had a chance over the past few weeks to air their concerns, but declined invitations from Democrats and the White House to participate in talks. “The White House gave us a real shot to participate and the leadership claimed we didn’t want to participate ... because they felt that whatever came out of the negotiations they probably couldn’t support,” Voinovich said.

One senior Senate Republican aide said McConnell acknowledged during the lunch his decision to reject the invitations to participate. Voinovich said some GOP votes might be swayed with changes to the car czar language, but complained, “Some of them, frankly, don’t want to do anything.”

One Senate GOP aide said supporters of the bailout were trying to win over Republican Senators who either are retiring at the end of this Congress or who lost their re-election bids this year.

Meanwhile, House Democrats voted on their package and then planned to adjourn.

“We’re going first and we’re leaving town,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said. “We’re playing the Senate game on this.”

However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the House could return to deal with potential Senate amendments to the plan and would not adjourn “sine die.” Even if the Senate passes a bill, the House will likely have to come back to vote again because Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) bill is slightly different from the House measure. Dodd made several tweaks that the White House asked for. However, both bills would empower a car czar, appointed by the president, to oversee any major actions by the automakers and force changes. The position would have effective veto authority over any expenditure of $100 million or more – a provision Democrats insisted on to help prevent bailout money from being used to subsidize the shipping of jobs overseas. The government also would get warrants for a 20 percent equity stake in the companies in addition to preferred stock paying a 5 percent dividend.

Democrats gave up efforts to prohibit the companies from continuing to sue states over emissions standards after the White House objected, and the companies won an antitrust exemption so they could coordinate their restructuring efforts.

House Republicans also fought the bailout, offering an alternative that they said would prevent bureaucrats from running private industry while still forcing sacrifices on the part of bondholders and the United Auto Workers union.

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