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December 8, 2008

Look Closely: Democrats Outmaneuvered Bush on Big Three Bailout


The Democratic Congress has finally figured out how to do something that it hadn’t been able to do over the last two years – enact part of its platform over the objections of President George W. Bush.


A blaring headline on the liberal clearinghouse web site The Huffington Post declared on Friday that Congress had followed a well-worn path – it had caved into the demands of the nation’s least-popular president ever in crafting emergency assistance for the Big Three automakers.


At first blush, it might appear to be true. All along, the president had insisted that any emergency aid – so-called bridge loans – come from money previously set aside to help the Big Three retool to build more efficient, more technologically advanced automobiles. A deal reportedly brokered among congressional Democrats would do exactly that.


But follow-up comments revealed that some political maneuvering, based on basic competence, was afoot. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the money would come from that retooling fund, but that it would probably be replaced after President Bush left office.


After that, with stronger Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress and a Democratic presidency, money set aside to bail out Wall Street could go to help the nation’s automakers.

While the president got what he wanted in the short term, in the long term that won’t matter.


Already a mostly inconsequential figure when it comes to actual policy setting, the president’s support for using money set aside to help the Big Three manufacture fuel-efficient cars really means appealing to a very small constituency, people opposed to helping the Big Three at all.


Opposition to helping the Big Three, in Congress, comes mostly from southern lawmakers who see potential gain in letting Detroit’s automakers flounder and fail. Their states are home to a burgeoning presence of foreign-owned automobile companies, who can operate free from having to make good on contract promises to help retirees.


It also comes from people ideologically opposed to the government taking over any responsibility of the market. Wealth flourishes where government stays out. It’s a nice thought – someone ought to maybe try it some day.


But the opposition was badly hurt by the latest employment data released Friday, showing a loss of more than half a million jobs. This lent weight to warnings by economists before Congress that the loss of just one of the Big Three could collapse the very delicate spider web of manufacturers, suppliers and auto dealers. The resulting carnage could claim as many as 3 million jobs.


This is where congressional Democrats finally managed to beat the president and outmaneuver their Republican counterparts. After Barack Obama takes office, it will be Democrats who will be able to put their stamp on economic stimulus and rescue bills. While some economists are warning of coming doom, others think that the economy could well turn the page at the end of 2009 and begin being rebuilt.


During 2009, it will put Democrats in a favorable position to rekindle a theme from the presidential campaign – Wall Street versus Main Street, except that Main Street will be a place where things are made and regular Americans are employed. Wall Street, of course, will be where the nation’s prosperity was flushed away by greed, incompetence and bad debt. Democrats, in having focused economic rebuilding efforts on things that employ thousands of people, get to claim the mantle as champions of Main Street.


If that’s the case, Democrats will be able to claim the mantle of having rescued the economy just in time for the 2010 off-year campaign season, a year critical because its results will directly impact how congressional and legislative districts are drawn.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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