Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More Straws

The government meddling in the automakers has already started, to fairly little attention. The House of Representatives is crafting legislation to force General Motors and Chrysler to reinstate the franchises of as many as 3,200 dealers that the companies had been planning to cut as part of their bankruptcies. The Senate seems to be working along the same lines.

The message that Congress seems to be sending is that the automakers got themselves into trouble mainly by paying out too much at the top of the pay scale. They seem to be poised to vet, and sometimes block, cost-cutting measures that would result in "injury to the little guy," and in doing so, they are announcing a de facto rejection of the automobile manufacturers claims that their overall labor cost structure and their incentives to dealers are part of the problem. And by forcing the automakers to retain dealerships to obtain federal funds, Congress can cast the companies as middlemen in a public bailout, rather than the recipients of a corporate one.

It's a gamble, but a relatively safe one. The public's memory is short, and selling out potential long-term prospects for tangible immediate gain is almost always a political winner. If you were going to boil this down to a pithy saying, it might be: "Government always has enough money to buy constituents a free lunch." As long as General Motors and Chrysler can keep afloat for a few years more, if they do go under, Congress will be able to deflect criticism that they played a role in it.

No comments: