So here's a breakdown of what's going on in Congress concerning federal aid for U.S. automakers. A Senate bill expected to be voted on this Thursday would expedite funds for Ford, GM and Chrysler so that they could actually get the cash they need within 22 days after the bill becomes law -- should the bill become law. The $25 billion loan, paid back at an initial rate of 5-percent, would come out of the $700 billion bailout fund for financial institutions. The Senate's stipulations would be that the government receives "stock warrants or senior debt instruments to the government," similar to actions taken with banks that accessed the $700 billion. As well, top executives get no big payouts and stockholders get no dividends.

The rumblings on the track indicate that unless the folks in favor can change a lot of minds before Thursday, the Senate bill has little hope of passing. That makes it even more unlikely that a House version of the bill would pass, since it has even stricter requirements. The House bill would also get money for the automakers quickly, but would establish a Financial Stability Oversight Board that would have veto power over any auto company action that would cost more than $25 million. Who would be on that board and how would they be chosen? Who knows.

Latest word is also that the White House doesn't want to take money from the $700 billion bank bailout and use it for the auto industry. It would rather speed up disbursement of the $25 billion in low interest loans that was already approved for research into more fuel efficient vehicles and let the automakers use that for their current cash needs. The White House also wants, and the Senate bill requests, that Ford, GM and Chrysler give the Treasury "a detailed plan on how the government funds requested will be utilized to ensure the long-term financial posture of the company." Cue the dramatic music, some maniacal laughter and the late Vincent Price intoning: the plot thickens.

[Source: Automotive News - sub. req'd]