WASHINGTON (AP) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for "emergency and limited financial assistance" for the battered auto industry on Tuesday and urged the outgoing Bush administration to join lawmakers in reaching a quick compromise.
Five days after dismal financial reports from General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., Pelosi backed legislation to make the automakers eligible for help under the $700 billion bailout measure that cleared Congress in October.
In a written statement, the California Democrat said the aid was needed "in order to prevent the failure of one or more of the major American automobile manufacturers, which would have a devastating impact on our economy, particularly on the men and women who work in that industry."
"Congress and the Bush administration must take immediate action," she added. Administration officials have concluded that the bailout bill that passed earlier does not permit loans to the auto industry, but lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol for a brief postelection session beginning next week.
The plight of the industry has drawn attention from the White House and the incoming Obama administration in recent days, as well as among lawmakers.
Last week, President-elect Obama prodded the Bush administration to do more to help the industry, and on Monday, aides said he raised the issue with President Bush in an Oval Office conversation meant to underscore a smooth transition of power.
Officials familiar with the conversation said the president replied he was open to the idea.
Before adjourning for the elections, Congress passed legislation providing for $25 billion in government-backed loans to the automakers to prod them to retool their factories to make more efficient vehicles.
Since then, executives from GM, Ford and Chrysler LLC and officials in the United Autoworkers union have called for more than that to avert a possible collapse of one of the nation's most basic industries, including a $25 billion loan to help keep the companies afloat and $25 billion more to help cover future health care payments for about 780,000 retirees and their dependents.
GM and Ford reported last week that they spent down their cash reserves by a combined $14.6 billion in the past three months. Ford said it would slash more than 2,000 white collar jobs.
Pelosi's statement did not specify how large an aid package she prefers.
Instead, she said she had asked Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to draft legislation.
A companion effort is under way in the Senate.
The Senate is scheduled to meet next week in a postelection session, but until Pelosi issued her statement, it was not clear the House would follow suit.
The House already has passed legislation to provide additional unemployment insurance benefits for some of the growing ranks of the nation's jobless, as well as a separate measure to stimulate the economy.
That meant the Senate could have passed either or both bills and sent them to the White House for Bush's signature without further action by the House.
Pelosi's announcement changed that, and raised the possibility of a postelection session that covers more areas.
The Bush administration, for example, has said that enactment of a free trade agreement with Colombia is its top priority in Congress.
Many Democrats oppose the proposed agreement as written. But it is unclear what, if any, compromise might be possible that would allow auto assistance and a trade agreement to be the last major measures signed into law by the outgoing president.