WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives, with help from Maryland’s six Democratic members, voted to loan automakers $14 billion Wednesday night, but Senate Republicans appeared poised to block the cash infusion Thursday.
The rescue package, negotiated by congressional Democrats and the White House, amounted to far less than Detroit car makers initially asked for, but the compromise would make short term loans available to tide the manufacturers over until the new administration steps in next year.
Maryland Democrats framed the bailout as a necessary step to protect the nation’s economy from crippling job loss and further market declines this week. Even though Maryland isn’t thought of as an automaker’s state, the Congress members argued that the fallout from losing any of the “Big Three” — General Motors Corps., Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. — would quickly reach families in all parts of the country.
“These rescue loans are necessary — not to reward bad decision-making in Detroit, but to protect three million American jobs,” said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, in a statement that discussed the sweeping stakes for the national economy.
Some of those jobs are in Maryland. The United Auto Workers represents Maryland workers in 11 local chapters, including 1,500 GM employees at a Baltimore factory. Union members in Maryland also work for 24 other auto-related companies, and Maryland ranks 22nd among the 50 states in terms of dependence on the auto industry.
“Our state isn’t as reliant on the auto industry as a part of our economy as Michigan is,” said Stephanie Lumberg, a Hoyer spokeswoman, “but there’s the dealers and other people work in the industry.”
The UAW estimates that as many as 37,000 jobs — including indirect ones — in Maryland are tied to the auto industry. A lot of those jobs are in auto dealerships, like your neighborhood Pontiac dealership, which could go out of business.
None of the Maryland Democrats responded to requests for comment on how a failure in Congress to agree on legislation would affect those workers specifically. Spokespersons said the national economy is what is at stake as the bill moves on to the divided Senate.
But at least one member, Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, gave a nod to Maryland’s auto workers in a statement shortly after Wednesday night’s vote.
“The collapse of the auto industry would threaten more than 2,400 jobs here in Maryland alone,” Edwards said, offering a lower estimate of the number of Maryland employees at risk. “Our faltering economy can not withstand another devastating blow as we are already in a recession and our unemployment rate is at a 15-year high.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, whose district includes the GM plant, also supported the bill. Last week, Cummings said the automakers were “on their knees looking for a little help to save American jobs in the midst of a recession.”
Spokespersons for Reps. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, and John Sarbanes, D-Towson, did not return phone messages and e-mails requesting comment Thursday. Both representatives voted for the bill.
Maryland’s sole remaining Congressional Republican, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, opposed the bill Wednesday night.
“It doesn’t make sense to provide $14 billion in taxpayers’ money as an incentive for GM and Chrysler to restructure under Chapter 11 when they haven’t already taken the opportunity to restructure,” Bartlett said through a spokeswoman. “We don’t have the money.”
Sue Walitsky, a staff member for Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore, confirmed reports that the Senate was not likely to vote on the bill Thursday, noting that some members were out of town for the late session, and that “legislative head-counters” were still looking for the votes needed to overcome a possible Republican filibuster.