The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a multi-billion-dollar rescue plan for the country's struggling auto industry.
Introduced by majority Democrats, the bill is nearly identical to one pending in the Senate, where Republican opposition is making its chances for passage uncertain.
The bailout proposal would extend taxpayer-funded loans or lines of credit to the so-called Big Three U.S. automakers, and would create a federal government post of "car czar" to oversee the industry.
House members approved the measure by a vote of 237 to 170 Wednesday night, after a lengthy debate.Under terms of the bill, 14 billion dollars would be made available in emergency short-term loans for the American carmakers. Another half-billion to one-point-five billion dollars would be available in loans for the production of energy-efficient, advanced technology vehicles.
The Bush administration says it mostly agrees with the concept of the bill. But Senate Republicans say the plan does not do enough to ensure that carmakers reform their businesses.Republican opponents in the House said that while no one wants to see the auto companies fail, the measure amounts to another federal government bailout.
The measure gives the companies until the end of March to submit plans to achieve profitability in the future. The plans would be reviewed by the "car czar" to determine whether the companies can achieve long-term viability. If not, that official will have the power to revoke the loans and force the companies into bankruptcy.The government already has used taxpayer money to fund a rescue of the struggling financial sector. The costs of those measures has contributed to the country's budget deficit, which rose to 164 billion dollars in November -- a record for the month.