A Democratic Congress, unwilling or unable to approve a $25 billion bailout for Detroit's Big Three, appears ready to punt the automakers' fate to a lame-duck Republican president. Caught in the middle of a who-blinks-first standoff are legions of manufacturing firms and auto dealers _ and millions of Americans' jobs _ after Senate Democrats canceled a showdown vote that had been expected Thursday. President George W. Bush has "no appetite" to act on his own.

U.S. auto companies employ nearly a quarter-million workers, and more than 730,000 other people have jobs producing the materials and parts that go into cars. About 1 million on top of that work in dealerships nationwide. If just one of the auto giants were to go belly up, some estimates put U.S. job losses next year as high as 2.5 million.

"If GM is telling us the truth, they go into bankruptcy and you see a cascade like you have never seen," said Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, who was working on one rescue plan Wednesday. "If people want to go home and not do anything, I think that they're going to have that on their hands."

The automakers _ hobbled by lackluster sales and choked credit _ are burning through money at an alarming and accelerating rate: about $18 billion in the last quarter alone. General Motors Corp. has said it could collapse within weeks, and there are indications that Chrysler LLC might not be far behind. Ford Motor Co. has said it could get through the end of 2008, but it's unclear how much longer.

For now, however, with the federal emergency loan plan stalled in the Senate, lawmakers in both parties are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken, positioning themselves to blame each other for the failure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., scrapped plans Wednesday for a vote on a bill to carve $25 billion in new auto industry loans out of the $700 billion Wall Street rescue fund.

It's really up to Bush's team to act, he said.

"I don't believe we need the legislation," Reid said. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson can tap the financial industry bailout money to help auto companies, Reid said, but "he just doesn't want to do it."