U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who grew up in the car-factory town of Janesville, had the right reaction to the latest proposal to provide needed federal funding to keep American autoworkers on the job.

He’s no fan of bailouts for business. Indeed, he voted against the no-strings-attached bank bailout that the Congress backed in September.

But, Feingold said, “I supported this plan to help the U.S. auto industry because without this assistance, millions of American jobs, including tens of thousands in Wisconsin, will be jeopardized. In these tough economic times, allowing our auto manufacturers to fail could be catastrophic for our economy and could send already increasing unemployment levels skyrocketing.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t how Senate Republicans — and a few Democrats — saw things.

A minority of senators established what was effectively a filibuster to block the $14 billion auto bailout bill — despite the fact that it was backed by the Bush administration.

The move may have killed efforts to aid the industry this year, although the issue is so urgent that it could yet be revisited.

A majority of senators back an auto bailout.

But 60 senators were needed to bring the measure to a vote.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the chamber’s 49 Republicans either voted against allowing a vote or simply abstained. Ten Republicans — Missouri’s Kit Bond, Kansas’ Sam Brownback, Mainers Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, North Carolina’s Elizabeth Dole, New Mexico’s Pete Domenici, Indiana’s Dick Lugar, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, Ohio’s George Voinovich and Virginia’s John Warner — voted to invoke cloture, as did 40 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

But Montana’s Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Arkansas’ Blance Lincoln voted “no,” while Vice President-elect Joe Biden, of Delaware and and Massachusetts’ John Kerry abstained. (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, voted “no” to keep open the option of reconsideration, while Massachusetts’ Edward Kennedy did not vote because of his illness.)

What’s the bottom line?

Again, Feingold’s on point: “I am greatly disappointed that some Senators didn’t hesitate to bail out Wall Street, but decided not to help millions of working class Americans.”