The House saw the stakes clearly in approving $14-billion in emergency loans to U.S. automakers. Now the future of a major manufacturing base falls to Senate Republicans, who are dawdling as Detroit collapses. The Senate should pass the bailout and move quickly to establish controls over the public's money.
It is hardly ideal to provide public assistance to an industry in trouble by its own making. It is also reasonable to ask whether the package is large enough to forestall the demise of General Motors or Chrysler. But those questions pale compared to the implications of allowing an industry whose tentacles reach far and deep to fail as the global economy worsens.
The aid approved by the House and backed by the White House is measured and appropriate. It provides emergency loans to the two most imperiled automakers, GM and Chrysler, who could run out of cash in the coming weeks. In exchange, the automakers would limit executive pay and give the government an equity stake in the companies. They would provide more sweeping reorganization plans than the ones originally submitted to Congress as part of the loan request. The legislation also creates a government "car czar" to oversee the companies' plans for becoming viable long-term.
Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa and other Democrats were right to see the rescue in the larger context of saving jobs, homes and businesses. The failure of any automaker would shake the entire economy, threatening auto parts manufacturers, suppliers and other services. Not a single Florida Republican voted for the bill (two did not vote). Here are two questions for them: What is their alternative? Would they buy a car from a company in bankruptcy that might not be around to service it or make good on the warranty? Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, who pledged to work in a bipartisan way when he announced he will not run for re-election, has an opportunity here to make good on that commitment.
The package meets the very terms Congress has asked of the automakers. It forces them to build more fuel-efficient cars, close factories and wrangle cost-cutting concessions from unions and creditors. That may not save the domestic auto industry, but it gives carmakers a chance and should save jobs in the midst of this recession. The Labor Department reported Thursday that new claims for jobless benefits reached a 26-year high. So there is the choice: Put public money toward this jobs bill or toward unemployment claims.