DETROIT — The Obama administration has dropped the idea of appointing a "car czar" to oversee the revamping of General Motors and Chrysler and will instead put the politically delicate task in the hands of a presidential panel, a senior administration official with knowledge of the plan said Sunday night.
President Obama is designating Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the chairman of the National Economic Council, Lawrence Summers, to oversee the group.
Geithner will also supervise the $17.4 billion in loan agreements already in place with GM and Chrysler, said the official, who insisted on anonymity.
The official also said that Ron Bloom, a restructuring expert who has advised the labor unions in the troubled steel and airline industries, would be named a senior adviser to Treasury on the auto crisis.
The unexpected shift comes as GM and Chrysler race to complete broad restructuring plans they must file with the Treasury by Tuesday. The companies' plans are required to show progress in cutting long-term costs as a condition for keeping their loans.
By naming a task force rather than a czar, the president is reserving for himself any decision on the viability of GM and Chrysler, both of which came close to bankruptcy before receiving federal aid two months ago, the official said.
One of Obama's top advisers said Sunday that the administration had not ruled out a government-backed bankruptcy as a means to overhaul the automakers.
"We're going to need a restructuring of these companies," the adviser, David Axelrod, said Sunday on Meet the Press on NBC. He added that a turnaround of the companies would "require sacrifice not just from the autoworkers but also from creditors, from shareholders and the executives who run the company."
Stimulus: Obama heads west to sign the $787 billion stimulus bill on Tuesday in Denver. The stimulus package aims to save or create as many as 3.5 million jobs through massive government investment while boosting consumer spending through modest tax cuts.
Executive pay: White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration wants to revise restrictions on executive compensation in the stimulus package even after it becomes law.
Housing: Obama plans to shift to the housing crisis with an announcement Wednesday in Phoenix about reversing that sector's collapse. He was expected to offer help to homeowners on the brink of foreclosure. Details have not been disclosed.
Bipartisanship?: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Obama had backtracked on promises of bipartisanship. "Let's start over now and sit down together," he said. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., put it more bluntly: "If this is going to be bipartisanship, the country's screwed."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.