(CNN) -- Some lawmakers lashed out at the CEOs of the Big Three auto companies Wednesday for flying private jets to Washington to request taxpayer bailout money.
"There is a delicious irony in seeing private luxury jets flying into Washington, D.C., and people coming off of them with tin cups in their hand, saying that they're going to be trimming down and streamlining their businesses," Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-New York, told the chief executive officers of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors at a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee.
"It's almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high hat and tuxedo. It kind of makes you a little bit suspicious."
He added, "couldn't you all have downgraded to first class or jet-pooled or something to get here? It would have at least sent a message that you do get it."
The executives -- Alan Mulally of Ford, Robert Nardelli of Chrysler and Richard Wagoner of GM -- were seeking support for a $25 billion loan package. Later Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reversed plans to hold a test vote on the measure.
An aide told CNN that Reid decided to cancel the test vote when it became clear the measure would fall well short of the 60 votes needed. Reid did, however, make a procedural move that could allow a vote on a compromise, which several senators from auto-producing states were feverishly trying to craft.
At Wednesday's hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California, pressed the private-jet issue, asking the three CEOs to "raise their hand if they flew here commercial."
"Let the record show, no hands went up," Sherman said. "Second, I'm going to ask you to raise your hand if you are planning to sell your jet in place now and fly back commercial. Let the record show, no hands went up."
The executives did not specifically respond to those remarks. In their testimony, they said they are streamlining business operations in general. Watch Nardelli ask for help »
When contacted by CNN, the three auto companies defended the CEOs' travel as standard procedure.
Like many other major corporations, all three have policies requiring their CEOs to travel in private jets for safety reasons.
"Making a big to-do about this when issues vital to the jobs of millions of Americans are being discussed in Washington is diverting attention away from a critical debate that will determine the future health of the auto industry and the American economy," GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said in a statement.
Chrysler spokeswoman Lori McTavish said in a statement, "while always being mindful of company costs, all business travel requires the highest standard of safety for all employees."
Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker pointed to the company's travel policy and did not provide a statement elaborating.
But those statements did little to mollify the critics.
"If it is simply the company's money at stake, then only the shareholders can be upset or feel as it might be excessive," said Thomas Schatz, president of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.
But in this case, he said, "it's outrageous."
"They're coming to Washington to beg the taxpayers to help them. It's unseemly to be running around on a $20,000 flight versus a $500 round trip," Schatz added. iReport.com: Should the Big Three be bailed out?
The companies did not disclose how much the flights cost.
Analysts contacted by CNN noted that the prices vary with the size of the plane and the crew, and whether the aircraft is leased or owned by the company.
Analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group said that $20,000 is a legitimate ballpark figure for a round trip corporate jet flight between Detroit, Michigan, and Washington.
When asked whether they plan to change their travel policies as part of the restructuring needed to shore up their finances, none of the companies answered directly. But they said they have cut back on travel in general as revenues have fallen.
CNN's Emily Anderson, Virginia Nicolaidis and Dana Bash contributed to this report.
|Most Viewed||Most Emailed|