President-elect Barack Obama pledged to work for the survival of the auto industry, but accused car company executives of a persistent
"head-in-the -sand approach" and suggested some should lose their jobs.
One leading Democrat in Congress, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, was far blunter. Rick Wagoner, the chief executive of
General Motors Corp., "has to move on," he said Sunday.
The criticism of industry leaders deepened as negotiators for the White House and Congress narrowed their differences over a plan to
extend roughly $15 billion in short-term loans to any of the Detroit automakers that need it. Analysts say General Motors and Chrysler
LLC, in particular, are at risk for running out of money in the next few weeks, and that Ford may need help if the economy
Obama told a Chicago news conference Sunday that Congress is doing the right thing by asking for changes in the auto industry in exchange for federal assistance.
He said the collapse of the industry is unacceptable, particularly at a time of economic turmoil and job losses across the country. But he
added that it doesn't make sense "to shovel more money into the problem" without evidence the industry is committed to restructuring.
Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, whose state is ground zero for the battered industry, said he was confident an agreement would
emerge within the next day.
Democratic leaders have said they hope to pass the measure this week. While Levin declined to predict its approval, support among
rank-and-file lawmakers presumably would improve dramatically if the White House and Obama were to signal their backing.
In an interview broadcast earlier Sunday on NBC television's "Meet The Press," the president-elect said, "The last thing I want to see
happen is for the auto industry to disappear, but I'm also concerned that we don't put $10 billion or $20 billion or $30 billion or whatever
billion dollars into an industry, and then, six months to a year later, they come back hat in hand and say, 'Give me more'."
Obama, who takes office Jan. 20, has drawn some criticism from Democrats who want him to become more involved in efforts to save the
industry. The president-elect said his aides are monitoring developments and considering longer-term plans.
He expressed no support for calls to allow the big carmakers to enter bankruptcy and said, "We don't want government to run companies."
Instead, he said, "if taxpayer money is at stake - which it appears may be the case - we want to make sure that it is conditioned on an
auto industry emerging at the end of the process that actually works, that actually functions.
"Taxpayers, I think are fed up. They're going through extraordinarily difficult times right now."
Obama did not single out any individual executive by name for criticism and said there had been incremental progress in the past 15
years toward a more competitive line of products.
"What we haven't seen is a sense of urgency and the willingness to make tough decisions. And what we still see are executive compensation packages for the auto industry that are out of line compared to their competitors, their Japanese competitors, who are doing a lot better," Obama said in the interview, taped Saturday in Chicago.
Asked whether the top executives should remain in the jobs, he said, "Here's what I'll say, that it may not be the same for all the
companies. But what I think we have to put an end to is the head-in-the-sand approach to the auto industry that has been prevalent
for decades now."
A breakthrough on the long-stalled rescue came Friday when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yielded to President George W. Bush on a key
point: allowing the aid to come from an existing fund set aside for the production of environmentally friendlier cars.
The Big Three executives spent two consecutive days on Capitol Hill this past week pleading for as much as $34 billion in loans to help
their industry survive. But they made clear that $15 billion would be enough to keep them running until the end of March 2009.
Dodd appeared on CBS television's "Face the Nation." Levin spoke on "Fox News Sunday."