Maine’s Republican senators said Friday they supported President George W. Bush’s decision to make $17 billion available to the floundering U.S. auto industry. U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, said he was skeptical of the plan.

Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe agreed action was necessary, but both voiced concerns.

“This is a difficult issue, given the industry’s mismanagement, epitomized by their refusal to transform and produce the kind of fuel-efficient vehicles Americans want,” said Snowe in a statement.

“We are, however, in perilous and tumultuous economic times. A collapse of U.S. auto companies would have a catastrophic multiplier effect on an economy in which unemployment has already reached a 15-year high.”

Snowe said 19,000 Maine workers rely on auto industry jobs.

Bush’s plan calls for concessions from both the United Auto Workers union and auto executives, including a requirement to renegotiate union contracts and limit executive pay. Collins said she supports Bush’s stipulations.

“I am hopeful that the president’s plan to provide assistance to the automakers will be carried out with these conditions and will help save jobs,” she said in a statement.

Michaud, who represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, said he was not confident Bush’s plan would adequately protect taxpayers.

“I opposed the Wall Street bailout because there was not enough oversight or taxpayer protections built into it,” Michaud said in a prepared statement. “Their use of those funds has proven to be scattered.”

Maine’s 1st District Congresswoman-elect, Chellie Pingree, was unavailable for comment Friday.

Snowe and Michaud emphasized that before the remaining rescue funds are authorized, Congress should be presented with a clear spending plan.

“The program must cease to operate in an ad-hoc manner,” Snowe said. “Treasury has not yet established policies to ensure the funds are being used as intended. Far too little has been done to keep endangered families in their homes, and the problem will only get worse.”

Snowe said she helped author a bill, passed by the Senate this month, that would require a study of whether banks are using the rescue funds they have received to spur lending.

The urgent need to thaw frozen credit markets was a major justification for the $700 billion package to begin with, but lending remains tight.


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