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Columns

December 13, 2008

It's go time for the Big 3

I’m a long way off from buying a new vehicle, but I already have a vision of my dream car.

It’s reliable, safe and green as can be _ powered by batteries, hydrogen, solar energy or some yet-undeveloped renewable fuel.

And, in my dreams, this car is also American-made.

That’s why I cautiously support the auto bailout that’s been hashed out in Congress this week. The deal, which passed in the House on Wednesday but was facing significant opposition in the Senate as I write this, would give General Motors and Chrysler $14 billion in emergency loans to stave off imminent bankruptcy.

(Ford is in a slightly better position and won’t be getting a loan, at least not this time around.)

The short-term fix is designed to buy the automakers time to work with the new Congress and the Obama administration on a long-term plan for survival.

In a recent CNN poll, 61 percent of Americans said they did not support a federal bailout of the auto industry because it was unfair to taxpayers. I can understand where they’re coming from. Taxpayers have already been tapped to rescue investment bankers and mortgage lenders, among others.

Offering emergency loans to the auto industry is another huge gamble with taxpayer money, and I’m not sure I trust the CEOs of these companies to use the money wisely. (Enter the new “car czar,” whose fun title belies the tremendous responsibility of policing the companies’ restructuring efforts).

The fact that the CEOs of the Big Three didn’t realize that flying in corporate jets to D.C. to ask for money would be a public relations nightmare is troubling, at best.

It certainly makes me question both their foresight and their common sense.

But at least they learned from the mistake. On their next visit to Capitol Hill, they traveled in fuel-efficient hybrids and agreed to cut their multimillion-dollar salaries to $1 a year if their companies received federal loans.

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