Ensign Prepared to Block Auto Bill

Posted December 9, 2008 at 12:50pm

Updated: 3:02 p.m.

A $15 billion auto industry bailout bill could be derailed in the Senate, where at least one Republican has vowed to place a hold on the legislation, a move that could kill the prospects of passage this week.

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), the incoming chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, said that short of significant changes to the deal, he would place a hold on the legislation.

“It only takes one of us, and as it currently stands I’m prepared to hold it. Some major changes need to happen to that bill before it can go through,” he said.

The deal, which would draw funds from a $25 billion fuel-efficiency program, is the result of intense weekend of talks between the White House and House and Senate Democrats. Although Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) were invited to the negotiations, neither lawmaker attended those discussions nor did they send a proxy.

Despite the buy-in from the White House — and Senate leadership’s decision to not participate in the negotiations — Ensign said a lack of Republican participation is a major problem with the agreement that is coming together.

“If you want a bill to pass, you don’t bring a bill that was only written by the Democrats. We weren’t at the White House. In the House you don’t need to [direct participation of lawmakers], in the Senate you do. I have to represent what I think is right and what is good for my constituents,” Ensign said.

Meanwhile, House Democrats emerging from an all-day issues forum said there didn’t appear to be any major opposition to the auto package when it was discussed in an earlier Democratic Caucus meeting.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) shook her head at the news of the bill being held up by Senate Republicans.

“Some of them we need to just put on a spaceship and launch them to Mars,” Wasserman Schultz said.