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US Automakers Ask Congress for $34 Billion in Aid

Chiefs of Big Three return to Washington -- in hybrid vehicles this time, not private jets -- to renew appeal for a rescue. Also, the Treasury considers a plan to help increase home sales. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

The United States is already one year into a recession. That was the news this week from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The downturn is the longest since a recession that began in nineteen eighty-one and lasted sixteen months.

Economists generally wait for production to shrink for six months in a row before they declare a recession. But the bureau, a private group, uses a wider set of information to measure the economy. The news only confirmed what many people already knew: that the world's largest economy is weak and may not recover soon.

Worsening conditions have led to a big drop in spending, especially on costly products like new cars. Even Japanese automaker Toyota saw its sales fall thirty-four percent in the United States in November from a year ago.

The heads of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors returned to Congress this week to again ask for federal aid. Congressional leaders denounced them two weeks ago after they came in private jets with no clear plans for saving their industry.

This time, the chiefs drove to Washington in fuel-saving hybrid vehicles. And their companies presented detailed restructuring plans. The request for aid has risen from twenty-five billion dollars two weeks ago to thirty-four billion in loans and credit lines.

G.M. wants almost half of that, and says it needs four billion dollars this month. It warned that without support it cannot continue to operate.

Ford is in a better position. But the sharing of suppliers means it could be affected if G.M. or Chrysler fails. Ford is asking for a nine billion dollar credit line in case it needs it.

Chrysler is the smallest and most troubled of America's Big Three. It says it needs a seven billion dollar loan by the end of the month.

Two days of congressional hearings began Thursday in the Senate Banking Committee. The chairman, Democrat Chris Dodd, said he would support helping the automakers for the good of the economy. But the committee's top Republican, Richard Shelby, expressed opposition to a bailout.

A main root of the world financial crisis is the weak housing market in the United States. The Treasury Department has been under pressure to help troubled homeowners. Now comes news that the department is developing a plan aimed at reducing interest rates on mortgage loans for some buyers of homes. That could be good for homeowners trying to sell.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.