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President Articulates, Once Again, His Auto Policy

Latest speech on auto industry defends strategy but avoids the very questions of industrial policy his key points raise.

by on Jun.01, 2009

Presidnet Obama on stabilizing the auto industry

"And when that happens, we can truly say that what is good for General Motors and all who work there is good for the United States of America."

While the President was due to address the General Motors bankruptcy shortly before noon in the Grand Foyer of the White House today, he began his remarks by reviewing the situation at Chrysler. It was a skilful way to lead from the strength of a politician’s promises fulfilled, before making another very expensive set of promises, which were already under attack.

This was the second time in two months that the President devoted a significant amount of time to the auto industry, and it’s time that the president has said – more than once — he would rather be using doing other things.

He reminded an international audience that “These companies were facing a crisis decades in the making, and having relied on loans from the previous administration, were asking for more.”

“From the beginning, I made it clear that I would not put any more tax dollars on the line if it meant perpetuating the bad business decisions that had led these companies to seek help in the first place. I refused to let these companies become permanent wards of the state, kept afloat on an endless supply of taxpayer money. In other words, I refused to kick the can down the road,” he said.

It is precisely the criticism that once failed companies are put on taxpayer life support, there is no way to pull the plug, leading to endless spending during a prolonged deathwatch. For once President Obama resisted the opportunity to point out that the economic crisis was inherited after eights years of Republican leadership or that current Republicans have no plans to save jobs or strengthen the economy. He stayed with a message dear to his constituents:

Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson, aka Engine Charlie, at his desk in the Pentagon

Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson, aka Engine Charlie, at his desk in the Pentagon

“But I also recognized the importance of a viable auto industry to the well-being of families and communities across our industrial Midwest and across the United States. In the midst of a deep recession and financial crisis, the collapse of these companies would have been devastating for countless Americans, and done enormous damage to our economy — beyond the auto industry,” he said.

Change the President Can Believe in

Obama reiterated that the previous viability plans were rejected because they were fundamentally unsound, and that for government support to continue the companies would have convince him that they were making sweeping changes that he could believe in, a nice reversal on his successful Presidential campaign theme of last fall.

GM’s deadline to do so was today, but before addressing GM, Obama turned to Chrysler:

“When my administration took office and began going over Chrysler’s books, the future of this great American car company was uncertain. In fact, it was not clear whether it had any future at all. But after consulting with my Auto Task Force, industry experts, and financial advisors, and after asking many tough questions, I became convinced that if Chrysler were willing to undergo a restructuring, and if it were able to form a partnership with a viable global car company, then Chrysler could get a new lease on life,” he said.    (more…)