Welch will support limited auto bail out, if conditions are met

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(Host) Congressman Peter Welch says he will support a limited bail out package for the nation’s auto industry, but only if he’s convinced the plan will save jobs, force the companies to redesign their cars and protect taxpayers.

Vermont officials are following the issue closely, because there are several thousand good paying jobs in the state that are tied to the auto industry.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Welch says he’s hopeful that Democratic leaders in Congress and the Bush Administration will agree on a short term, taxpayer financed, bail out package for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

Several weeks ago Welch was skeptical about this approach.  He says he’s changed his mind because he believes the top executives of the auto companies have gotten the message from Congress that any bail out plan will be tied to their efforts to produce more fuel efficient cars in the future.

Welch says it’s likely that he’ll support a 15 billion dollar package if it includes several key provisions:

(Welch) "It’s going to take some confidence that in fact it has a reasonable prospect of success to retain jobs in that industry and that it has very solid taxpayer protections in I mean we are in uncharted territory here we’re in the worst economic crisis we’ve faced since the Depression and it is going to take us to do things that we’re not accustomed to doing."

Welch says the federal government’s oversight of the auto industry should include the appointment of an independent chairman or "auto czar" who will determine if the car companies are achieving their goals:

(Welch) "I prefer having an individual representing the taxpayer in the government in charge of releasing the funds because the one thing that will get the attention of Detroit is when they have to change they actually have to follow through in order to have the money released"

While Vermont doesn’t have any auto assembly plants, thousands of Vermonters are employed in related fields.  These include people who work for companies that manufacture a variety of auto parts and individuals who are employed at car dealerships.

David Mace is the director of Communications at the Vermont Commerce Agency:

(Mace) "An industry as large as the automotive industry has ripples that would be felt in even rural corners of the country including Vermont…it’s particularly worrisome of where the 3 primary employers who supply the auto industry are Lydall in the northeast Kingdom, NSK and Placon in Bennington and these are all very important employers for their respective regions."

The U.S. House is expected to vote on an auto industry bail out bill by the end of the week.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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