Congress Gives Not-So-Big Three An Ultimatum

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After some members of Congress excoriated the leaders of the not-so-Big Three for wasting money and not planning for their future, leadership from the Senate and House said they wouldn't give the automakers billions of dollars until they came up with a plan for not wasting money and setting up their own future. Welcome to Carpocalypse Now! It was basically the best solution that the lame duck Congress could come up with given that Turkey Day is around the corner and, like the UAW, Congress loves to take vacations. But why put it off? What's really happening? It doesn't look like the Democrats, with their current majority in the 110th Congress, actually have the votes. Our source in Congress tells us that they're still trying to get a good sense for where they are which is why they're starting in the Senate first. The leadership is afraid of risking a house failure and causing a market crash a la the $700 bill bailout. The final piece of the puzzle came yesterday when Detroit-favorite Rep. John Dingell was defeated for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee by Environmentalist-favorite Rep. Henry Waxman of California. This is a clear sign that the next Congress wants to take a more environmental tack. This leaves Congress in a position where they likely don't have the vote to push through a bailout now and, given the behavior of the CEOs, it won't look good to do it right away. Congress will also need some cover after the $700 billion rush-job. On the other hand, most representatives have auto-related jobs in their states and they don't want to see GM fail. Given the liberal bent the next Congress seems to be taking, there seems to be pressure on conservative "blue dog" Dems to get it done before the next Congress starts up next year. There will be a couple of chances for the Senate to take this up before the break and the not-so-Big Three have an opportunity to come up with a great plan that emphasis cutting costs, corporate reorganization and a better product mix. Or they can come up with a bad plan and see if Congress will swallow it anyways. Either way, we'll likely know before winter break. [Time, San Jose Mercury News, Photo Mark Wilson/Getty Images]