President-elect Barack Obama has said the US auto industry is too vital to disappear, but he also emphasised his support for Congress’ approach in asking Detroit for a plan and said that there could be no blank cheques.

He also criticised the under-fire Detroit CEOs, who received a hard time in Washington last week and were lampooned subsequently on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”. They drew particular criticism for travelling to Washington in lavish corporate jets.

“We can’t allow the auto industry simply to vanish. What I also have said is that we can’t just write a blank cheque for the auto industry,” Obama told a news conference.

“Taxpayers can’t be expected to pony up more money for an auto industry resistant to change and I was surprised that they did not have a better thought-out proposal,” he said of a request the Big Three automakers made last week for US$25 billion in government-backed loans.

“I think Congress did the right thing, which is to say you guys need to come up with a plan and come back before you’re getting any taxpayer money.”

Meanwhile, some auto industry perticipants are saying, ‘What about us?’ after federal officials moved swiftly to inject US$20bn into Citigroup and guarantee the banking firm’s assets. The cash infusion for Citigroup will come from a US$700bn banking rescue fund already approved by Congress.

“We’re all sitting here going, ‘Look, they don’t even blink about rushing into save the financial markets all the time,'” said Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich), quoted by Dow Jones. She accused the government of “hand-delivering” money to Citigroup.

“We feel there is such a double standard.”

See also: US: Pelosi, Reid letter to US auto execs (full text)