Monday, March 30, 2009

White House questions viability of GM, Chrysler

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday that neither General Motors nor Chrysler has proposed sweeping enough changes to justify further large federal bailouts, and demanded "painful concessions" from creditors, unions and others as their price for survival.

Obama also raised the possibility of a controlled bankruptcy to help either or both "restructure quickly and emerge stronger" — uttering the term that industry and union officials have warned repeatedly could lead to the collapse of an entire domestic industry.

With his words, Obama underscored the extent to which the government is now dictating terms to two of the country's iconic corporations — forcing the departure of Rick Wagoner as CEO of General Motors, and bluntly warning it may pull the plug on either or both companies.

The Bush administration late last year approved $17 billion in federal funds to help GM and Chrysler survive. It also demanded both companies submit restructuring plans that the Obama administration would review.

Even as he pronounced their effort unsatisfactory, the president said the administration will offer General Motors "adequate working capital" over the next 60 days to produce a reorganization plan acceptable to the administration.

He said Chrysler's situation is more perilous, and the government will give the company 30 days to overcome hurdles to a merger with Fiat, the Italian automaker. If they are successful "we will consider lending up to $6 billion to help their plan succeed," he said.

Obama spoke at the White House with the Big 3 standing at yet another crossroads. As the president noted, the industry has shed over 400,000 jobs in the past year as the recession took hold. Officials announced last week bailout funds would be made available to companies that supply the automakers, an attempt to keep them afloat.

Obama said he is committed to the survival of an auto industry — on terms that will allow it to compete internationally.

"But we also cannot continue to excuse poor decisions," he said. "And we cannot make the survival of our auto industry dependent on an unending flow of tax dollars."

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