- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Democrats are having a hard time selling the bailout of General Motors because nearly everyone has suffered the agony of buying a car. That’s how the “used-car salesman,” fair or not, became the American icon of deception, fraud and thievery.

Maybe it’s true that GM is “too big to fail,” though from all the available evidence GM is succeeding spectacularly at failure. What the pols and their lobbyist buddies really mean with their used-car salesman’s spiel is that GM is “too big for Joe Sixpack to let fail.”

Nevertheless, who among us is not enjoying a little schadenfreude, that delicious pleasure of watching someone get what’s coming to him. GM has led Detroit in building junk on wheels, big hunks of rolling tin designed on the cheap to wear out before it’s paid for. Once in a while, frightened by gasoline shortages and diminishing sales, the Detroit manufacturers move briefly to building smaller, more efficient cars of better quality.

But once panic subsides that market is left once more to the Japanese, the Germans and now the Koreans, and it’s back to building the behemoths. GM has what it calls a terrific semi-electric car in the works, the Volt, but it won’t be available until next year, or the year after, and probably never. GM is developing the Volt only because it will enable them to meet the government-imposed “fleet mileage standards.” Since the Volt will get 100 miles per gallon, GM can use it to shrink the average and continue to build the gasoline-guzzling SUV, the gross and ugly Belchfire 8 of Detroit dreams.

Who would want to help these guys? Ah, but Congress is crowded with them.

Two of them, alas, are Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader who dreams of turning the economy into a vast casino where any number can play and everyone is fleeced just like in Las Vegas, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, the city of a thousand lavender fantasies. They have devised a scheme to hand over $25 billion to the Big Three automakers. They’re daring George W. Bush to veto it. “If they’re serious about supporting the auto industry,” says Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, smugly, “[he] wouldn’t veto it.”

The legislation is just the kind that liberals love, dispensing cash with few strings to reward incompetence and corruption. Just take the money and run, and come back for more if it’s not enough. The law limits the pay and bonuses for the men and women who piloted the company into the side of the mountain, but includes no provisions for the Treasury Department, which would hand out the cash, to monitor how GM spends it.

Rep. Barney Frank, the prince of peccadillos who wrote the cooked book (with a little help from his Democratic friends) on bringing down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is the author of the sins and outrages that sparked the subprime housing crisis that ignited the meltdown of the economy. Now he argues that letting GM or Ford or Chrysler fail would be “pretty troublesome.” But when Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, a Republican, asked Chairman Frank of the House Financial Services Committee where the government bailout of incompetents and failures stops, he had no ready answer.

But even $25 billion won’t be enough. Bloomberg, the financial news service, reports that Barack Obama is pushing Congress to hand over twice that, and he wants a federal czar to take charge of the companies, which would require the connivance of President Bush. Otherwise, say the president-elect’s wise men, the new president would just have to deal with GM’s dilemma next summer - by giving them still more money - as what would then be called “the Obama recession” deepens.

Handing out money is habit-forming, and there’s never a lack of “clients.” The City Council in Detroit (or “Detoilet,” as hometown wags are calling it) adopted a resolution this week asking the governor, the Michigan congressional delegation, Mr. Bush and the Obama transition team for $10 billion to pay for more buses and streetcars, home mortgages and even to hire more municipal bureaucrats. The council president, no doubt reading the newspapers, said “the city of Detroit has got to be leading the way on this.”

The grubby hands reaching for a handout multiply. One London research firm estimates that the U.S. government has now committed itself for $5 trillion (that’s a “t,” not a “b”) so far. The original $700 billion bailout is TARP, for Troubled Asset Recovery Program. We should call the handout frenzy the Capital Assets Recovery Program. CRAP, for short.

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times.

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