No Holiday Break Yet For Lawmakers

Congress is in session this week to deal with the economic crisis in the car manufacturing industry. Over the weekend, President-elect Barack Obama gave his support to congressional action to provide relief for the auto industry. Obama has also been very busy on other policy and personnel issues.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. President-elect Barack Obama has no formal power until he's inaugurated. Informally, though, his words mean a lot. And it's taken as a significant signal when he says he will support a bailout of the auto industry, with some conditions. The president-elect spoke as Congress prepares to act on a bailout this coming week. Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut told CBS he also favors a bailout with conditions.

(Soundbite of CBS show "Face the Nation")

Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut; Chairman, Senate Banking Committee): I think you've got to consider new leadership. If you're going to really restructure this, then you've got to bring in a new team to do this, in my view. GM is in the worst shape. Chrysler is, I think, basically gone, probably ought to be merged. Ford is fairly healthy. So we don't want to brand all of these companies exactly the same way. But nonetheless, if you're going to restructure and have a viable manufacturing sector in our country...

Mr. BOB SCHIEFFER (Host, "Face the Nation"): So, what you're saying about GM is that Rick Wagoner, the chairman, has to go.

Senator DODD: I think he has to move on.

INSKEEP: That's Senator Dodd, questioned by Bob Schieffer of CBS. Let's go now to NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts, who joins us every Monday morning. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. We just heard Chris Dodd talking about the ouster of the head of General Motors. What else might Congress want in exchange for billions of dollars in aid?

ROBERTS: Well, there were reports that there are all kinds of impositions that they want to put on the car industry, that they might create some sort of oversight board composed of Cabinet officers - including the Environmental Protection Agency head - and that Congress would be able to call in the loans if it needs to.

Of course, if the car companies had any money, that would be part of the problem there. But they also want to limit executive pay, put a ban - these are all proposals - ban on stock dividends while the loans are outstanding, get government approval for business transactions of 25 million or more. So, all kinds of things being discussed between the Democrats in Congress and the current White House and the Obama transition team. So, a lot of players in here now.

INSKEEP: We must have a lot of lobbying going on with automakers saying, wait a minute, don't make it impossible for us to do business at all here, and also a lot of other companies wondering if they might be the next to be asking for government assistance.

ROBERTS: Well, that's true. And we don't know what's going to happen on this auto bailout. Congress is meeting this week. You know, the Senate Republicans are baulking, and they have the support of the public in the baulking - polls showing two thirds of the people say they're not for what's called a bailout of the auto. Now, if you call it something else, sometimes you get better numbers.

So it's not at all sure that this is a done deal. But there are economists saying that two and a half million people will be out of work if the car companies are not helped, and Christmas is looming. So, I think at some point here, we are likely to see something happen for the car companies.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Cokie Roberts at a moment when it seems more and more likely that there may be some bailout heading into law for the auto industry, when, of course, the financial bailout is in full swing and people are talking about a trillion-dollar deficit, with a T, for the federal government. Is anybody going into office in January concerned about that?

ROBERTS: Well, yesterday on "Meet the Press," Barack Obama said that that deficit would just have to be on the backburner for now. He said, quote, "We've got to provide a blood infusion right now, make sure the patient is stabilized." And he talked in his radio address on Saturday about having the biggest infrastructure program, public works program, since the federal highways in the '50s. I think, though, Steve, that really the '30s is a better comparison.

And even though this is daunting and a tremendous challenge, it's also a huge opportunity for Barack Obama. Nobody's going to be telling him, hold off here - there is such concern about the economy. And I think we'll have to watch and see what else he has planned. He's talked about a moratorium on home foreclosures. He could move on from this big infrastructure program he's talking about to doing something on health care. I mean, this could really be another New Deal.

INSKEEP: I guess if he wanted to, he could devote more money to Veterans Affairs.

ROBERTS: And he did name the new Cabinet officer for Veterans Affairs over the weekend, Eric Shinseki. Of course, we last saw him saying more troops were needed to invade Iraq, which caused the ire of the Bush administration. This was something of a stick in the eye to the Bush administration from Barack Obama to name Shinseki. But he's not doing national security after all. He is doing Veterans Affairs.

INSKEEP: Always good to talk with you. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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