Total Recall: GM Bailout Amnesia

by Henry Payne

Detroit — ”Deeply disturbing,” said NHTSA chief David Friedman of GM’s failure to act on an air-bag supplier’s warning of May 11, 2009, that air bags would not deploy if the ignition switches on Chevy Cobalts failed. NHTSA fined GM $35 million in part because it claimed that GM should have reported that information immediately to federal regulators.

But what was happening at GM in May 2009?

Friedman’s boss, Barack Obama, had taken over GM, of course. Having fired GM CEO Rick Wagoner on March 30, 2009, Obama’s Auto Task Force was fast-tracking the Detroit company for bankruptcy in order to shore up its finances and preserve the jobs and dues of a key Democratic political constituency, the UAW.

Given the political importance of the GM/UAW bailout, does anyone believe that GM employees would alert the federal government to an expensive new recall when the same federal government was saving the automaker for the president’s political benefit?

The White House’s slavish media, of course, has collective amnesia over that government bailout. Reports have ignored that GM was under government supervision for half the period it failed to report the ignition-switch defect to . . . the government. Trial lawyers haven’t forgotten, however, and some are arguing that GM and the Auto Task Force hid the ignition problems from the bankruptcy court, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Friedman (who worked for the far-left Union of Concerned Scientists until 2013) and Transportation secretary Anthony Foxx claimed that the Cobalt ignition scandal was indicative of a company culture that failed to alert federal regulators of possible defects, even telling its employees not to use words like “defect” or “problem” in describing product issues.

That’s demonstrably not true as the Cobalt itself was recalled three times for other – more expensive – fixes to its headlights, headliner trim, and power steering. But why let facts get in the way of a good headline?

“What we cannot tolerate [is a] company that knows danger exists and says nothing,” raged Foxx. “What GM did was break the law.”

That’s rich coming from an administration that brazenly broke the law in giving the UAW priority over secured creditors in the 2009 auto bailout, at the cost of millions to teacher and police pensioners. The president’s concern for GM’s future was as shallow as his concern for those pensioners. The Obama that made the salvation of GM and American manufacturing the centerpiece of his campaign (“GM is alive, Bin Laden is dead”) has utterly ignored the company since the recall campaign engulfed it.

Not that anyone’s shedding tears for the automaker. The bitterness of GM’s stint on the federal dole is still in the public mouth – as is its historically high-handed treatment of suppliers.

But what a turnaround for Government Motors. In 2012, Washington elites scoffed at  those who criticized the GM bailout as unpatriotic. Five years later and GM is reviled by the same elites as an outlaw.

When asked at a Brookings forum this week whether the auto task force knew of GM’s ignition switch issue, former auto czar Steve Rattner (and noted outlaw) pled ignorance. “We’re not forensic accountants,” he said. “We had about 40 days to do all this due diligence and we can’t find something like that out.”

Rattner had his political mission. Now NHTSA has its.