A failure of leadership

Published 11:14 pm Thursday, December 18, 2008

The U.S. Senate’s failure to advance a bill that would provide a bridge loan to the U.S. domestic auto industry is a woeful misapplication of the priorities that should govern our stewardship as political leaders.

The Senate last week failed to break a Republican filibuster to consider the legislation.

This measure was intended as a bridge loan, not a bailout. It is inequitable to support a $700 billion bailout for mismanaged financial institutions that largely protects exorbitant executive compensation and yet not support this loan package, which was designed to provide cash flow in order to help millions of working men and women.

The opposition to this bridge loan was based on the faulty argument that unionized auto workers are too highly compensated. When you remove from the average United Auto Workers compensation the money needed to support retirees’ health insurance and pension expenses, UAW workers take home about the same wages as non-union workers at foreign car plants in the United States.

If ensuring parity in pay between union workers and workers in non-unionized plants is a priority, then parity should be applied evenhandedly. The average American CEO makes 400 times what the average worker makes, while the average Japanese CEO makes only 10 times what a Japanese worker makes.

The health of our nation’s domestic auto manufacturers, suppliers and dealers is as important and as deeply woven into the fabric of our economy as the health of Wall Street.

According to the Center for Automotive Research, in Virginia alone there are 47,485 jobs that are directly connected to the auto industry, in the form of parts and suppliers, dealers, and assembly plants.

I co-sponsored a proposal offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., that seeks to restore consumer confidence by providing tax credits to help middle-class Americans purchase new cars. Under this plan, a family would save about $1,553 on a $25,000 car and about $2,500 on a $35,000 car.

After weeks of its refusing to do so, I am encouraged to read reports that the White House is considering using congressionally provided funds for Wall Street to assist U.S. automakers.