Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain declined Sunday to immediately support $15 billion in additional funding to help U.S. automakers weather the economic downturn but did not rule it out.
McCain, in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," noted that Congress had recently approved $25 billion in low-interest loans to help the auto industry build more fuel-efficient vehicles. He said the industry should receive that funding before more is added.
"Let's get the first $25 billion to them first," said McCain, adding that the government could "see how that works before we say we're going to give you some more."
McCain and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama have called for the loans to be expedited to help the industry retool plants and develop more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Energy Department has estimated it could take six to 18 months to fund the projects.
Obama has also said the loan program should to be doubled to provide $50 billion.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's economic adviser, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that the funding for the loans "needs to get out the door, and the top priority should be to get it out quickly, not take 18 months."
The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research has estimated that General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC may need a $15 billion bailout to survive the nation's financial crisis, which has led to sluggish sales and limited the availability of credit for auto loans.
Asked whether the auto industry needs a bailout, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, an Obama adviser, said on "Face the Nation" that the "the auto industry clearly is extremely important to the economy and now has enormous difficulties. I think we do need to face those difficulties and see if there are ways that public policy can be helpful and make sense."
General Motors has been discussing a potential merger with Chrysler's majority owner, Cerberus Capital Management LP. Cerberus is also discussing a deal with the combined Nissan Motor Co.-Renault SA.
GM earlier this month said it faced "unprecedented challenges" because of problems with the financial markets and a global downturn in auto sales. But it called speculation about a possible bankruptcy filing "exaggerated and unconstructive."
Chrysler on Friday announced it was cutting 25 percent of its salaried work force and would be making further cuts to deal with the rough economic conditions.
On Thursday, members of Michigan's congressional delegation urged the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to use their regulatory powers and the powers it received in the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector to loosen up credit to finance car loans.
The lawmakers said the lack of liquidity in the credit markets "threatens to cripple these industries and the communities in which they operate."