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Congress needs to aid auto industry

November 30, 2008
By Larry Ringler Tribune Chronicle

Let me get this straight:

$1.5 trillion for bank assets that no one can value, and so no one wants;

$300 billion to insure fixed-rate mortgages for people who didn't know they needed a job or a down payment to buy a house;

$200 billion for wheeler-dealers at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac;

$150 billion for party-hardy insurer AIG big wigs;

In all, $7.7 trillion and counting in bailouts, loans and guarantees for as greedy a bunch of pirates this side of Somalia.

Then there's, uh, $0 for the domestic automakers whose demise could throw as many as 3 million people out of work.

Welcome to the Twilight Zone, American-style.

Actually, welcome to Politics, American-Style. This is where the Democratically-controlled Congress last week told some of its staunchest supporters - the middle class that was so important to it during election season a few weeks ago - to justify its existence.

Officially, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank and the gang put the onus on the automakers to lay out how they would spend $25 billion in loans.

Note the word ''loans.'' Not the kind of free money Congress gleefully tossed to bankers, investment gamblers and others who created this subprime mortgage/credit crisis. The automakers were going to have to, gasp!, pay back the money. With 5 percent interest!

Shows you how far the once-mighty automotive industry has been pushed down the line at Congress' feeding trough.

Say what you will about the Big 3 chiefs traveling to Washington in corporate jets. Sure, it wasn't the smartest move, but we're talking pennies compared to the taxpayer's dollars Congress has thrown to its Wall Street buds.

By the way, I wonder if our lawmakers enjoy any perks that the vast unwashed masses don't? Aren't they always coming to the taxpayers for money?

I'll be shocked if our esteemed elected officials don't come across with the money. They would've a few weeks ago except they wanted to put on a show about how stern they can be when it comes to public money.

If lawmakers knew the auto industry like they know the best tables at Washington's fanciest restaurants, they'd understand the Detroit Big 3 and United Auto Workers have made huge strides toward fixing what's under the hood.

The union, long pilloried for opposing serious concessions, swallowed hard and accepted a lower tier of wages and benefits for new hires. It's accepted increased costs for health care, at the risk of angering its dwindling membership and growing retiree bases.

GM is investing billions to leapfrog the competition with the plug-in electric Volt small car and is scoring with the Chevrolet Malibu, Impala and other award-winning vehicles. Some experts say GM's product offerings have never been better.

Ford tied with its own Volvo brand to top the federal government's list of safest vehicles, beating Honda and Toyota. It consistently ranks near the top in quality surveys.

Maybe Congress should take a long look at the Warren area, where the entire community is rallying around the General Motors Corp. Lordstown Complex. Business and labor leaders don't have any doubts about the auto industry's importance to our area.

It's time Congress wakes up to that fact as well.



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