- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2009

General Motors and Chrysler are seeking a negotiated settlement on dealer closures as congressional hearings continue and bipartisan support for the dealers grows.

“We’re looking forward to working with House leaders for a resolution with the dealers that allows us to move forward with our restructuring plan,” GM spokesman Greg Martin said Monday.

Mr. Martin said the dealers’ main lobbying group, the National Association of Automobile Dealers (NADA), has not responded to requests for talks.

NADA spokesman David Hyatt denied that.

“We’re open to talk, we want to first talk with congressional leaders and we need to find out what they think are the best steps to take next,” Mr. Hyatt said.

“We haven’t yet heard from GM and Chrysler.”

Chrysler spokesman John Bozzella could not be reached for comment Monday. He told Automotive News last week the company also was interested in a “non-legislative” solution.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, both Maryland Democrats and original co-sponsors of the dealer rights bill, are involved in settlement efforts along with the bill’s chief sponsors, Reps. Frank Kratovil Jr., Maryland Democrat, and Dan Maffei, New York Democrat.

“[Mr. Kratovil] is working with Rep. Maffei, Majority Leader Hoyer and Rep. Van Hollen, bringing people to the table, acting as a conduit,” said Kratovil spokesman Kevin Lawlor. “As far as a formal setting, I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as that.”

The bill is called the Automobile Dealer Economic Rights Restoration Act.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold another round of hearings on the dealer terminations Tuesday and Wednesday.

Last week, the House Financial Services Committee requested documents on the Obama administration’s handling of the automaker bailouts, citing concerns about the treatment of employees, retirees, creditors and dealers, and the post-bankruptcy ownership structure of the companies.

The federal government now owns 61 percent of GM and 8 percent of Chrysler.

“They negotiated, they reviewed and they approved every aspect of the Chrysler and General Motors reorganization,” Rep. Spencer Bachus, Alabama Republican, said Friday. “We don’t know how the president’s auto task force reached its conclusion.

“The process for closing the dealerships, for instance, lacked any transparency,” Mr. Bachus said.

The resolution seeking documents was sought by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, but endorsed by Democrats on the committee, including Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the committee’s chairman, and Mr. Maffei.

It will now be considered by the full House.

“These decisions were implemented without the auto manufacturers or the task force presenting evidence publicly that these [dealer] closings would actually benefit the auto companies financially,” Mr. Maffei said Friday. Mr. Maffei is also on the Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Boehner is also a co-sponsor of the dealer rights bill, as is Mr. Frank, who cautiously backed the resolution seeking documents.

“We ought never to be standing in the way of trying to get information,” Mr. Frank said. “I will say that I think there is an accusatory tone [in the resolution] that is not entirely justified.”

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