Congress has returned to work this week for a lame-duck session and members expect to face a vote on an economic stimulus bill, which would likely include assistance to the failing U.S. auto industry.

All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation promise to carefully evaluate any legislation aimed at helping the U.S. auto industry, but each declined to take a firm position until a specific bill was filed by Senate leadership.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who both supported the recent $700 billion rescue package for the financial industry, said they are opposed to simply handing over money to the auto industry.

“Clearly, the bottom line is that the American automotive industry must be overhauled and reconfigured if it is to turn the corner and succeed,” Snowe said in a statement.

Snowe was critical of the decisions made by auto company executives and their refusal to “build vehicles that consumers want.”

Automakers have been lobbying for federal aid since discussions for the sweeping financial rescue package began earlier this summer.

But Collins said Congress has already recently approved $25 billion in loans to help the auto industry meet the federal mandate for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“I have grave reservations about simply providing a blank check to the auto industry,” she said.

Democratic Reps. Tom Allen and Mike Michaud said they support passage of an economic stimulus package that includes investments in infrastructure, the extension of unemployment benefits and food stamps and state aid.

“Detroit needs the help, but industries of all sorts are hurting, like Maine’s paper industry,” said Michaud, who voted against the large financial market rescue package. “I believe any economic recovery package must stimulate the whole economy.”

Allen, who voted in favor of the $700 billion package, said there is a national interest helping automakers avoid a “catastrophic collapse.”

In Maine, economic experts say the move to aid the flagging industry may be unpopular, but necessary.

“For a lot of people, there may be an issue of fairness,” said David Findlay, economics professor at Colby College. He said small businesses in Maine that fall victim to the economic downturn are “relatively unimportant” to the national economy.

“But the ripple effects would be so severe for allowing GM to simply fail outright,” Findlay said.

Charles Colgan, economics professor at the University of Southern Maine, said the auto industry is too intertwined with other parts of the economy to be allowed to fail, but cautioned against the government simply handing out more money.

“If a bailout package left (automakers) the opportunity to make the same mistakes all over again, I’d say it was throwing good money after bad, to essentially delay the inevitable,” he said. “It has to come with conditions in terms of management.”


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