Leahy, Sanders reluctantly support auto industry rescue

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(Host) Vermont’s two U.S. Senators, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, say they’re reluctantly supporting a $15 billion rescue package for the nation’s auto industry.

Both senators say that allowing Ford, General Motors or Chrylser to fall into bankruptcy could affect a lot of auto related jobs in Vermont.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Vermont isn’t home to any production facilities for the nation’s largest auto makers but the NSK Steering Company in Bennington serves as a good example of the potential rippling effect that the bankruptcy of the big car companies could have across the country.

NSK makes steering columns for the Toyota Camry, the Nissan Altima, and the Mercedes M class vehicle.

The downturn in the auto industry has already resulted in layoffs at NSK and more are taking place this week.

When the current round of layoffs is implemented, NSK will have laid off roughly 130 of its workers in the last 8 weeks – that’s about 25% of its workforce.

NSK spokesperson Greg Lauren says the future of the big auto makers has a direct impact on his company and many like it:

(Lauren) "The ripple affect would be bigger than any one of those companies because there are so many firms that are serving multiple different people we’re not big enough that any one firm depends solely on our business on the other hand in many respects the way business is set up you’ll have one approved supplier for a part and if that supplier goes under it could potentially be devastating."

Senator Patrick Leahy says he’s reluctantly supporting the bill because millions of jobs could be lost if the car companies go under:

(Leahy) "You can’t have the most powerful nation on earth you can’t have the automobile industry go belly up to some extent there’s a national security component of the automobile industry…I look at the millions of jobs throughout America including a whole lot in Vermont connected to the automobile industry manufacturing type jobs and on top of that you have all of the dealers."

Senator Bernie Sanders voted against the $700 billion bail out of the financial services industry but he says this package is different:

(Sanders) "The problem is if you don’t act in the midst of a growing recession what does it mean to create a situation where millions of more people become unemployed and that could spread and I have serious concerns about that I think it would be a terrible idea to add millions more to the unemployment rolls."

A large number of Republican senators are threatening to block consideration of this bill.
Senator Leahy is angry about this possibility:

(Leahy) "These are the same people who voted billions of dollars with the idea that it’s supposed to create jobs in Iraq well what I’m saying we’re in a crisis in America we should be concentrating on what kinds of jobs we create in America."

Leahy says it’s too soon to tell if a compromise bill can be drafted in time for a Senate vote before the weekend.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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