WASHINGTON – U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said Tuesday that Congress could meet again in December if members are unable to make progress in dealing with the nation’s economic crisis.
The Senate reconvened Monday to discuss its first priority, aid for the struggling automotive industry. The House reconvenes Wednesday but doesn’t expect to address the auto bailout until the Senate passes legislation.
“It was our hope that we could do that this week,” Hoyer said. “That does not appear to be the case.”
The nation’s three biggest auto manufacturers — Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. — have requested billions of dollars in federal aid to help avoid massive layoffs and potential bankruptcy.
Congress passed legislation in September providing the auto industry with $25 billion in loans for development of fuel-efficient vehicles. Manufacturers now seek another $25 billion to help save jobs.
Both Republicans and Democrats appear willing to help but passing legislation to do so has proven difficult.
“They want to help the automobile companies,” Hoyer said. “It’s just a question of how.”
Senate Democrats want to provide the additional $25 billion, taking it from the $700 billion financial industry bailout passed in October.
Senate Republicans and the Bush administration prefer that assistance come from the $25 billion already granted to help automakers develop fuel-efficient vehicles. An amendment to the September legislation would allow the funds to be used to keep manufacturers afloat, rather than for their initial purpose.
Democrats are unwilling to pass new legislation at the expense of the old.
“We have in hand a piece of legislation we’ve passed,” Hoyer said. “We don’t think there’s any need to repeal that.”
The Senate Democrats’ proposal will be tacked on to a bill extending federal unemployment benefits by 13 weeks, but it faces strong opposition.
Hoyer said House Democrats will not produce their own bailout legislation and will instead wait for the Senate to resolve its differences.
“We hope that there will be (a compromise),” Hoyer said, adding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., “is not very confident of that.”
If and when the House receives a Senate-approved plan, Hoyer said he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., could work on passing the bill into December.
“My expectation is the speaker and I will agree that we’re not going to adjourn (for the year) if we’ve not completed our work,” he said.
While the auto bailout is the chief concern on Capitol Hill, Democrats still have their hopes set on passing a new economic stimulus package.
The House passed a $61 billion stimulus plan in September that stalled in the Senate. Democrats set a goal of getting a new version passed after the Nov. 4 election.
Senate Democrats introduced an expanded package Monday, but Republicans appear unlikely to agree to it. If it cannot be passed, Hoyer said the stimulus will remain on the table when the new Congress begins in January.
“We still believe that’s important,” Hoyer said. “If we can’t pass it now then we certainly want it to be one of the programs on the agenda.”