Even before the UAW pulled the plug at the eleventh hour, Democrats had for days resisted crafting a loan package with teeth. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi viewed the bailout bill as a ways to transform the Detroit Three into permanent wards of the state to conduct subsidy-gobbling green experiments and to shelter union jobs.
Pelosi first resisted transferring any of the already appropriated Department of Energy funds to the Detroit automakers for fear it wouldn’t go to Silicon Valley electric carmakers. But after grudgingly releasing $14 billion of the DOE money, her caucus larded the bill with demands that the Detroit Three drop lawsuits against draconian California emissions laws as well as provisions that the automakers invest in mass transit.
The White House called the California amendment a deal killer, and Reid stripped it from the Senate version of the bill. But the House tried a linguistic sleight-of-hand, changing a line requiring the automakers to comply with “all applicable federal
fuel efficiency requirements,” to “all applicable fuel efficiency requirements,” which would have had the effect of re-introducing California regulations.
By essentially granting a “car czar” the powers of a bankruptcy judge, Corker’s amendment would actually give hope to the communities in which the Detroit Three operate by setting the companies on a course — not only to pay back government loans — but also to become viable, equity-growing companies. The result would be communities in which property values would rise — instead of falling as the industry continued its inevitable downward path.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leverage changes that put these companies on a path to sustainability and success,” wrote Corker in the Detroit News. “Requiring fundamental changes as part of a loan package is in the long-term interests of Michigan, Tennessee, and our country.”
But short-term interests are all that have ever mattered to the UAW, which is why the automakers are in this predicament. The White House, watching the short-term effects of the auto bailout’s collapse on the financial markets Friday morning, quickly surrendered to Democratic demands that TARP money be tapped for the bailout. And so the long slide of the U.S. auto industry towards failure — now burning taxpayer cash — resumes.
– Henry Payne is an editorial writer and cartoonist with the Detroit News.