Juan Williams, that well-known conservative, explains the auto bailout:
Well, I hate to be Ebenezer Scrooge about this, but you know what? I don’t think people are mad at the unions. I think they’re mad at the people who have been running these auto companies and running them into a ditch, Bill.I think that they’ve been running them badly and that’s why most Americans think that this bailout is a mistake. They think it’s a mistake to reward failure.
And the sympathy goes out, of course, to the workers who would be losing jobs and then there comes the political reality, which is that the economy is in trouble and if you have — I think the big three employ 150,000 people. If you have that many people put in danger, plus all the suppliers and auto dealers down the line, you have a problem. But the thing is if you are going to do this, and I think this is the argument the Republicans on the Hill are making, who is representing the taxpayer? Why are you and I paying for this bailout and is it, as some have said, a bridge loan to nowhere? Because what happens in three months?
You say the car czar was there and he could’ve started these negotiations. Why do you think the UAW would’ve been any more amenable to the car czar, knowing that Barack Obama is coming, and Barack Obama has had tremendous support from the unions. He’s going to do everything he can for the unions.
He is in line with not only Debbie Stabenow, but Jennifer Granholm and all the politicians in Detroit, in Michigan. So I think that right now, it’s a setup for the auto companies to get what they want. Everybody’s going to say, “You know what? We had to do it to save the economy.” What are they going to say when state governments show up at the door and say, “We want some of that bailout money, too?” What about transit companies? I mean, everybody is going to say, “We want a piece of the pie.” Every lobbyist in town is after that money.
Williams isn’t a conservative, of course, but neither is he caught in the wave of fear that seems to have gripped President Bush and his advisors. They seem to be convinced that by resisting the pleas to give the Big Three funds without significant restructuring requirements they will worsen their historical legacy. It is simply bad policy to let the Big Three and the U.A.W. off the hook — and ultimately fatal to the chances of the latter’s members for long-term employment. Indeed it’s a bad deal for everyone (taxpayers, the Big Three and their employees.)
Williams is right: the window of opportunity to do the right thing is closing. The Bush administration is said to be looking at all the options, including a prepackaged bankruptcy plan. That, or something approximating the Corker Plan, would be a smart move and spare Bush from earning the moniker The President Who Nationalized the Auto Industry.
Contrary to what is said by Democrats, much of the media, and UAW-apologists, the Republicans didn’t crush the bailout bill because they are mean or indifferent. They didn’t do it to dance on the grave of the U.S. auto industry. They did it because, as just about anyone who has looked at this rationally has been telling us, it is utterly counterproductive to give the Big Three more money without insisting on their prompt and dramatic restructuring. Absent that, the Big Three (or however many survive) will become perpetual corporate welfare recipients.
Perhaps the White House and Treasury officials looking over this have that concern in mind and are working on a meaningful plan. (The fact that they didn’t immediate fork over TARP funds is a hopeful sign.) But if instead the Bush administration gives billions away without a real requirement for the car companies to align their costs with foreign owned competitors, we’ll look back on this opportunity and wonder why no one had the nerve to practice some tough love.