Road Noise: Congressional Rumble All-Out Attack!

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The Place: The Capitol, Washington D.C. The Players: Three captains of industry (Rick Wagoner of GM, Alan Mulally of Ford and Bob Nardelli of Chrysler), one union leader (Ron Gettelfinger of the UAW) and a big angry Congress.
And then there’s me, your humble chronicler, the only person left behind at Vehicle Voice World Internet Headquarters and Decorative Bamboo Plantation to tell this story, because everyone else is at the L.A. Auto Show. Follow me behind the cut, and let’s talk about the Detroit 3 (plus one)’s adventures in Washington.

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That’s…ominious.


The upshot of Tuesday and Wednesday’s hearings was that all three CEOs, plus Gettelfinger, said they were okay with accepting bailout money with strings attached. Problem is, they rejected all reasonable strings out of hand. They declined to accept conditions tied to executive pay, fuel economy or spending on mergers. Good luck with that, guys. Of course, proposing conditions tied to fuel economy standards shows just how little understood the industry is to begin with. All automakers are looking to improve fuel economy and lower emissions, with or without conditions.

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If I had Photoshop skills, I’d paste a shoe into Mullally’s hand there, Khrushchev-style.

The Republicans on the Financial Services committees really went to town on our four Detroiters, saying their (the congressmen’s) constituents have been coming to them saying, “We make less than autoworkers, and no one’s helping us. Let ’em swing.” In the House, Barney Frank (D-Mass.) doused that line of crap by pointing out that autoworkers make less than the people at AIG who already got bailed out. This is a bunch of finger-pointing theater, of course, but it’s illustrative of the national attitude on this whole process: We have Bailout Fatigue, and if the automakers wanted money, they probably should have made this move a couple months ago.
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Rick Wagoner, like Patrick Star, has no discernible line of head/neck demarcation.

There was some specific questioning about whether the UAW was willing to make concessions. Gettlefinger said that his organization is always in dialogue with the car companies, and while the UAW is willing to make some changes, “It’s a two-way street.” In other words, they won’t budge without the automakers also making sacrifices, and since there’s no evidence that the UAW has ever once in its 73-year history considered any move by an automaker to be a labor-related sacrifice…yeah, no concessions from that corner.
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Ron Gettelfinger: A quarter-inch away from being Snidley Whiplash.

The GOP plan to pull the $25 billion out of advanced tech funds instead of the existing bailout package has the White House’s backing now, but it’s hard to say how much that really matters at this point.
Everyone was up in arms about everyone on the panel having flown to Washington via private jet. (I expect next people will be outraged none of them downgraded from a suit and tie to sackcloth and ashes.) In reality, all three of the CEOs are required by their boards to avoid commercial air travel for security reasons, but wouldn’t it have made the greatest road movie ever if they’d all piled into a minivan to make the drive from Detroit to Washington?
So, to sum up two days of hearings, prepackaged Chapter 11 is absolutely out of the question (though throughout the process committee members kept questioning why bankruptcy would have any effect on Joe Public’s willingness to commit to a giant durable purchase, leading me to wonder how these guys manage to even tie their shoes in the morning) and Bob Nardelli has no business running a car company. But we knew that already.
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Amazing, Google Images! “Tool” is the first word I think of, too!

Then, Thursday, the Intertrons were all a-twitter with news from Michigan Democrat Carl Levin that a bipartisan compromise had been reached, and a bailout would be under way soon. Hooray! Happy days are here again!
Except not, said Speaker Pelosi and every other Democrat who isn’t from Michigan. Levin jumped the gun. Instead, the Detroit 3 have about a week to come up with plans for exactly why they deserve the money and exactly how they’ll use it. It’s sort of like making a pitch to “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” except instead of giving Ty Pennington reasons to come to town to build us a magical funhouse, they’ll be giving the federal government reasons not to burn Detroit to the ground and sow the ground with salt.
It’s going to be a fun week.

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