Well if you’re a Republican Senator, you gotta have some fun, because it’s all about to go to crap. Though the Democrats failed to get their 60+ filibuster proof majority for next year onwards — they’re stuck on 58 with the (always expected) victory of Saxby Chandliss in Georgia last week and even a victory by Al Franken in the heavily disputed Minnesota race won’t get them over the edge — the reality is they’re close enough that they will always be able to assemble a 60+ majority by a combination of coalition-building around special issues and state-by-state bribery.
So these are the last days the GOP has a chance to exercise that most American of all democratic institutions — frustrating the passage of a bill with majority support by reading cookbooks into the congressional record and pissing where you stand until the session runs out. Alright, alright, these days, you simply have to record your intent to filibuster rather than actually bring a set of Dickens — which goes to show how pointless the whole thing is.
Comes the hour, comes the man, and as the intermediate auto-bailout package comes to a vote with Democrat and White House support, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana is threatening to go for it, in a last burst of glory. Filibuster. The word incidentally is from the Dutch “vliebaastar”, or something like that.
Vitter will have the support of the GOP Senators, who are cutting up rough over the measure, which would see around $15 billion go in loans to GM and Chrysler (Ford says it doesn’t need an emergency bailout — ie it wants more, later). Their opposition to the bailout is obviously a brave defence of the principled free-market idea that one should not reward moral hazard, etc, and have nothing at all to do that most of them are from the South, where Toyota and Mitsubishi have set up a bunch of car plants on the basis of substantial tax breaks and a guarantee of union-busting (or “right-to-work” laws, as they call it here).
The Republicans’ move is pissing off the White House, which is desperate to tide GM and Chrysler over to, ohhhhh, 12.01pm January 20, 2009, and would probably pay any amount of money for it. You have to sympathise.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Dubya at this stage — though a picture of a children’s ward in an Iraqi hospital would soon dispel the urge. Nevertheless, the guy is facing the possibility that the final major event of his presidency will be a pre-Xmas bankruptcy of General Motors, effectively the keystone of American manufacturing for decades. Or, as Greg Sheridan would put it, “among George W Bush’s overlooked achievements was his innovative restructuring of the US automobile industry in the last weeks of his Presidency”.
Short of deliberately infecting random citizens with cholera in a syringe, it’s hard to think what else could push the stake further through the heart of Dubya’s reputation than being the guy who gave Michigan and Ohio pink slips for the holidays.
Nevertheless, any way you look at it, the Republican Senators have a point about the mini-bailout. Though it’s being presented as a loan, there’s no real guarantee that the money would come back, especially from Chrysler, which is widely assessed as a write-off, still somehow coasting down the hill.
Their objections are also to the bill’s proposed creation of a ‘car czar’ — although anyone offered the job should hold for a guarantee that it will be pronounced Kazah! — who would effectively supervise a process of restructuring the companies, ie draw them in to the mixed command economy the US is rapidly becoming.
Some object to that on grounds of principle. Others simply want the plan — for which there is a March 31 deadline — before the money.
That’s fair enough, since the whole management of the bailout process from September onwards has been so inept as to have former cabinet members of Zaire (Congo) shaking their heads. No-one seems to have a record of where the $350 billion first tranche of the bailout has actually gone. It’s as if the Iraq process — ship bricks of cash over and then hand them out — has reversed into American self-government, as if Congress is now the provisional authority of a failed state.
Others suggest the role of the Kazah! should be to actually steer GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, which would allow them to break their long-standing pension and health care agreements with labour unions brokered as part of layoffs in past decades. This would effectively turn pensioned workers into individual creditors, with no option but to accept a fraction of their continuing payout.
Barack Obama wants the deal to go through and is desperate to keep the companies going, presumably because he doesn’t believe all that “creative destruction” crap and is contemplating the cost of benefit payments, re-employment, extra crime, etc, in the northeast should two of the big three collapse.
The Obama plan — as part of the wider reconstruction plan — would be to continue the process of government control over the auto industry and force them to get smarter quicker on hybrid cars, mass transit production and the like as part of his green vision. That wouldn’t mean much joy for the unions in terms of existing entitlements, but the UAW has made it pretty clear that it’s willing and eager — much too eager — to renegotiate entitlements in tandem with Obama’s creation of a better health care system.
The misery of a GM collapse before Xmas is pretty awful to contemplate, but you can’t help but think it would be damn spectacular, like a reactor meltdown — the whole industrial core burrowing its way to China.
Mind you, the whole thing may be because the GOP Senators are tetchy. It was “day without a gay” here — a gay strike as part of the campaign against Proposition 8 — so there were no rent boys in the airports. What’s a conservative Christian Republican to do?