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Not surprisingly, neither the outgoing Bush administration, President-elect Barack Obama nor the Democratic leaders of Congress wants to be blamed for the loss of a once-proud domestic auto industry and the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But that's not the same thing as a three-way agreement on legislation to save General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler LLC, an accord that presumably could clear the House and Senate with relative ease and be signed into law.

Instead, maneuvering in a sort of political twilight zone, two administrations and the Democratic leaders of Congress all give rhetorical support to the survival of the industry while trying to reassure recession-weary taxpayers there will be no blank check from the federal treasury.

"Nothing concentrates the mind like a death sentence," Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said Thursday at the end of a daylong Senate Banking Committee hearing. "And we're looking at a death sentence here if we don't respond intelligently and prudently."

In the ways of Washington, there are several competing options afloat, each with its own set of supporters.

The White House likes one; Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., another. Some Republicans prefer bankruptcy — let the marketplace decide. There's also a prepackaged bankruptcy option, drawing interest among some Democrats despite opposition from the United Autoworkers Union. Its intent is to permit all three companies to survive.

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