NEW YORK – President Bush is offering no encouragement to any U.S. automobile companies that might be thinking about turning to the federal government for a financial bailout.
"I think it's very important for the market to function," he said in an interview in the Thursday editions of The Wall Street Journal.
He said companies need to manufacture "a product that's relevant" and that his administration has discussed new fuel technologies with the nation's top two auto makers.
"As these automobile manufacturers compete for market share and use technology to try to get consumers to buy their product, they also will be helping America become less dependent on foreign sources of oil," Bush said.
Asked whether he had talked with the chairmen of Ford Motor Co. (F) and General Motors Corp. (GM), the president said: "Not about their balance sheets. And I haven't been asked by any automobile manufacturer about a bailout."
Together, the two companies plan to cut about 60,000 jobs over the next few years and there is concern on Wall Street that one or both could wind up seeking bankruptcy protection.
That, in turn, has raised the prospect of one or both seeking government assistance as Chrysler did in 1979 when it won $1.5 billion in loan guarantees.
"I have been very reluctant," Bush said, cutting off his sentence. "I'm mindful of the past where at one point in time, a predecessor of mine was faced with that same dilemma. I would hope I wouldn't be asked to make that decision."
Bush suggested his sympathies are more with the workers than the corporations, saying his administration would focus on retraining laid-off employees.
"This is going to be a very troubling time for workers and their families," Bush said, adding that companies had an obligation to assist employees who are laid off.
He also called on GM, Ford and others to be careful about backing away from fully meeting pension obligations. "That's not how the market works and that's not corporate responsibility as I see it," he said. "I'm very firm on seeing to it that this government hold people to account."