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GOP Targets Unions in Opposing Auto Bailout

POSTED: November 18, 2008, 12:00 am

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When President-elect Barack Obama held his first press conference he made clear that his priority was addressing the nation’s economic crisis. Mr. Obama encouraged Congress and President Bush to pass a second stimulus package during the lame duck session, and insisted that if they did not, it would the first order of business for his administration. It now appears that he will have to push an economic recovery plan when he takes office in January and the 111th Congress is seated because it appears unlikely it will happen in the current session.

Mr. Obama suggested that as part of a new round of stimulus initiatives, he supported aiding the ailing U.S. auto industry. It was good news to Detroit as the “Big Three” – General Motors, Chrysler and Ford – have been on a death watch; each company claiming to be at the point of no return, while turning to the federal government for assistance. While the American automobile industry has been singing the blues for some time, their current cry for help is no “crying wolf.” What was once a symbol of American might and ingenuity is now gasping for air. There is a real possibility that without aid, the brands that are synonymous with the period of unprecedented economic growth in our country may be near an end.

So, why are Republicans on the Hill so animated against the idea of aiding Detroit automakers? After all, the Bush White House came to the rescue of financial institutions that were mired in debt over their bad investment in the subprime mortgage meltdown. Surely, the auto industry and its vendor supply chain, potentially equals or exceed the financial sector in the number of workers’ jobs conceivably lost if it were to go under. Republican claims that the industry is getting its just desserts for bad business decisions is also disingenuous when they were so willing to rescue a financial services sector that is responsible for a debacle for the ages.

The real difference is who is at the end of the life line. The millions of jobs that potentially could face the axe if Detroit collapses are union jobs. They are jobs that support households that traditionally vote Democratic and that even if they strayed during the Reagan and Bush years, came back home on November 4 and supported Barack Obama. Many of those jobs are held by Black workers who have gained middle class status through the good wage and benefit scale unionized employment provide. Unlike the financial services sector, the workers that would benefit from a bailout of the auto industry are not like the Wall Street crowd that has made excess a virtue. So, why are Hill Republicans drawing a line in the sand when it comes to the auto industry; particularly in the aftermath of an election in which the American public cited the economy as their primary concern?

Just look to the union label.

In many ways this is the Republican Party’s Achilles heel. The GOP has on the one hand claimed to be the party of the working American, yet it takes positions that are anything but pro-worker. Time and again it has sided with moneyed interests while continuing to support, in one way or the other, a “trickle down” economic approach that has failed miserably. Republican opposition to aiding the auto industry is just another example of how tone deaf the party has become to the plight of the working class.

No doubt Detroit has not done itself a favor the last two decades by manufacturing gas guzzling SUVs and ignoring the appeal of foreign imports. And the generous, healthcare benefits provided former auto workers in retirement has strained the economy. Still, the U.S. auto industry has been retooling and working to produce more fuel efficient vehicles that are also aesthetically appealing. In addition to the manufacturers, parts suppliers are also at risk if the auto industry collapses.

The real question is whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will be able turn the tide against the GOP for its stalemate on the auto industry bailout. Should one or more car companies collapse in the face of inaction by Congress, the Obama administration may have the perfect cover to take extraordinary measures to shore up the economy come January.

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