WASHINGTON – Hoping for a postelection session of Congress next week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday called for "emergency and limited financial assistance" for the battered auto industry and urged the Bush administration to join lawmakers in reaching a quick compromise.
Four days after dismal financial reports from General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., Pelosi backed legislation to make the automakers eligible for help under the $700 billion bailout measure that cleared Congress in October.
In a written statement, the California Democrat said the aid was needed "in order to prevent the failure of one or more of the major American automobile manufacturers, which would have a devastating impact on our economy, particularly on the men and women who work in that industry."
"Congress and the Bush administration must take immediate action," she added.
Administration officials have concluded that the bailout bill that passed earlier does not permit loans to the auto industry, but lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol for a brief session beginning next week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also supports help for the industry, and he issued a statement saying Democrats were "determined to pass legislation that will save the jobs of millions" as part of a postelection session.
"This will only get done if President Bush and Senate Republicans work with us in a bipartisan fashion, and I am confident they will do what is right for our economy," he said.
The plight of the industry has drawn attention from the White House and the incoming Obama administration in recent days, as well as among lawmakers.
Last week, President-elect Obama prodded the Bush administration to do more to help the industry, and on Monday, he raised the issue with President Bush in an Oval Office conversation meant to underscore a smooth transition of power.
Officials familiar with the conversation said the president replied he was open to the idea.
Before adjourning for last Tuesday's elections, Congress passed legislation providing for $25 billion in government-backed loans to the automakers to prod them to retool their factories to make more efficient vehicles.
Since then, executives from GM, Ford, and Chrysler and officials in the United Autoworkers union have called for more than that to avert a collapse of one of the nation's most basic industries, including $50 million more to help cover future health care payments for about 780,000 retirees and their dependents.
GM and Ford reported last week that they spent down their cash reserves by a combined $14.6 billion in the past three months. Ford said it would slash more than 2,000 white collar jobs.
Pelosi's statement did not specify how large an aid package she would seek.
Instead, she said she had asked Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to draft legislation.
A companion effort is under way in the Senate.
In her statement, Pelosi said any assistance to the industry should include limits on executive compensation, rigorous government review authority and other taxpayer protections.
Michigan lawmakers praised the efforts made by Democratic leaders.
"If the [Bush] administration doesn't understand the impact of the auto industry on the economy and refused to respond positively to President-elect Obama, Sen. Reid and Speaker Pelosi, then we are preparing legislation on a bipartisan, bicameral basis for consideration by the Congress next week," Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat, said.
"This is a courageous and appropriate action by Speaker Pelosi," Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said. "She has shown great compassion for our working families who rely on the auto industry."
Dingell also applauded Obama.
"The president-elect is providing the leadership we need to get our economy on track," he said.
The Bush administration, meanwhile, has said that enactment of a free trade agreement with Colombia is its top priority in Congress.
Many Democrats oppose the proposed agreement as written. But it is unclear what, if any, compromise might be possible that would allow auto assistance and a trade agreement to be the last major measures signed into law by the outgoing president.
FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.