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Auto Bailout Remains Elusive

A deal could be made that would move Colombian FTA.

The main issue that has been pursued during this week's lame duck session of Congress is a bailout package for the nation's automakers. The emerging plan from Senators Carl Levin, D-Mich., George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., would pull funds to pay for short-term loans out of a $25 billion Energy Department program Congress authorized to help the auto industry retool their plants to meet higher fuel-efficiency standards.

"We have made great progress," Bond said on the Senate floor late Wednesday afternoon. "We are down to the point now where wording changes are about the only remaining things to deal with."

However the question remains whether or not the plan would be approved by the leadership and has a chance to get through in the lame-duck session. Senator John Thune, R-S.D., says the administration could try a horse trade that could lead to a vote on the pending free trade agreement with Colombia.

"There is a school of thought in the administration that if they do anything, agree to anything, the President agrees to sign anything with respect to auto manufacturers that there ought to be some give on some of these other important economic issues that the administration has been trying to advance and which the Democrats and Congress have block, one of which is the Colombian Free Trade Agreement," Thune says.

The agreement has been awaiting attention from Congress for quite sometime. Colombia already sends goods to the U.S. without tariffs and the agreement would eliminate tariffs on U.S. goods, creating true two-way trade that would open the market, particularly for agricultural producers and goods.

"It's clearly an agreement that should be enacted. Our best, most democratic ally in Latin America is Colombia," Thune says. "They've got a president who has worked very, very hard to clean up corruption, to root out the drug trade and to take on some of these terrorist groups. So I hope that if we do anything that they will be able to couple that so that we can get the Colombian Free Trade Agreement done."

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