Emanuel: Auto industry essential

Rahm Emanuel, President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, called the auto industry an “essential” part of U.S. manufacturing, while stopping short of endorsing a proposal to use some of the $700 billion financial-rescue fund to aid automakers.

“The auto industry is an essential part of our economy,” Emanuel said on ABC's “This Week.” Lawmakers should speed up the availability of $25 billion in government loans for the development of fuel-efficient cars, he said.

In addition, there are “other authorities” the administration can use and Obama “has asked his economic team to look at different options of what it takes to help bridge the auto industry so they are a part of not only a revived economy, but part of an energy policy going forward.”

Emanuel didn't directly respond to whether Obama endorses a proposal by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to use some of the $700 billion to aid automakers.

Senator Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, said a loan to help rescue the auto industry “could be part” of the bailout package. “The United States must have an auto industry,” Martinez said on NBC's “Meet the Press.”

Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third- ranking Democrat among House leaders, said that he's in favor of U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson “taking a hard look” at helping the auto industry.

General Motors Corp. is seeking U.S. aid to avoid collapse. GM's outlook and Ford Motor Co.'s woes added urgency to automakers' pleas for government help after a quarter in which U.S. sales plunged 18 percent.