Automakers try again to sell Congress on rescue

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WASHINGTON -- Humbled U.S. automakers are pleading with Congress to approve an expanded $34 billion rescue package to save their troubled industry. But Detroit's Big Three auto executives face continued skepticism from lawmakers in an encore appearance on Capitol Hill.

Asking for $34 Billion

"We're here today because we made mistakes," General Motors chief executive Rick Wagoner told the Senate Banking Committee in prepared testimony.

The three executives made the trip in new-model autos made by their respective companies, two weeks after a botched attempt for aid that included harsh criticism of corporate leaders who flew here on private jets to beg for money.

Ahead of testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, Wagoner apologized for asking for the help from taxpayers. Speaking with reporters, he said, "We wish the market conditions were better. They're not."

Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli said: "I can tell you in my 38 years in business, I've never attended a more important session where more is reliant upon both the House and the Senate."

Ford CEO Alan Mulally said in his prepared remarks that while his company isn't in as desperate straits as rivals GM and Chrysler, his company could still use a federal guarantee of some $9 billion "as a critical backstop" in a stressed economy.

"Our plan is working, but there is clearly more to do - something that is increasingly difficult in this tough economic climate," he said.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the panel, complained that the pricetag on the package had jumped since the trio last appeared just two weeks ago

He pressed the automakers to explain to Congress why, and to say why such aid would not simply "prop up a failed business model for a few months ... and how are you going to pay it back to the taxpayers?."

Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who supports helping the industry, said that a failure of one or more of the domestic automakers "would affect every sector of our economy."

"In just two weeks time, the clouds on the economic horizon have grown even darker and greater in number," Dodd said, noting the designation this week by a panel of economists that the country had entered a recession that began a full year ago.

But, he said, following the advice of those in Congress who contend the auto companies should file for bankruptcy protection rather than a taxpayer bailout "plays Russian roulette with the entire economy of the United States."

"Inaction is no solution," he said.

Dodd echoed the stance of other Democratic leaders in complaining that the administration was not tapping into an already enacted $700 billion financial bailout to help the auto industry.

"Congress has already given the Bush administration the authority to stabilize this industry," Dodd said. The administration has said that it has no intention of doing so, and would prefer aid be taken from an earlier $25 billion program to help the industry retool its plants to make their vehicles more fuel-efficient.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)