After their “underwhelming appearance” before Congress last month, said Tom Walsh in the Detroit Free Press, the CEOs of GM, Ford, and Chrysler were told to come back with viable survival plans if they want a government bailout. They turned them in today—“mighty GM” made it “frighteningly clear” that it will collapse unless it gets a $4 billion lifeline by Dec. 31 and $8 billion more by March; Chrysler needs $7 billion this month; Ford wants $9 billion on tap.

Ford says it can (probably) survive without help, said Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post, and Chrysler seems to want a loan to “tide it over until it can merge with GM or be sold off to a foreign automaker.” GM actually has “the most detailed and convincing plan”—shedding Saab, Hummer, Pontiac, Saturn, and 25,000 jobs in an informal “pre-packaged” bankruptcy.

GM didn’t turn in “a viable business plan,” said Evan Newmark in The Wall Street Journal online. It submitted “propaganda aimed directly at warming the hearts of Congress.” Sure, GM “gives a good effort” in its restructuring plan, but it “comes up short on the most fundamental question”: Will it leave taxpayers holding the bag, or “actually make money?”

Either way, we'll be better off with a bailout than if we allow the automakers to fail, said Ed Wallace in BusinessWeek online. “Detroit did not cause this current problem”—it’s as much a victim of “financial deleveraging” and “‘anything goes’ capitalism” as the rest of us. But if the U.S. automakers fall to the crisis, the “collateral damage” to America will be devastating.