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Detroit needs help fast

Tribune Editorial

Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 12/12/2008 07:14:52 PM MST

Senate Republicans fiddled while Detroit burned.

That will be the epitaph if the Big Three American automakers fail, plunging 3 million workers into unemployment and the nation's economy into a deeper recession, or worse.

A $14 billion bailout bill for General Motors and Chrysler, bridge loans designed to allow the troubled automakers to pay their suppliers at the end of the year, failed 52-35 in the Senate late Thursday. Senate Democrats and a few clear-thinking Republicans -- Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett not included -- were unable to muster the 60 votes needed to bring the measure to the floor.

Now, it's up to the Bush administration to save an industry that provides vital jobs at assembly plants, parts manufacturing firms and automotive dealerships in all 50 states, including approximately 15,000 jobs in Utah.

Bush, in an about-face, said he will consider assisting the automakers by tapping the remaining $15 billion from the first installment of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. He should. And, unlike the Republican loan sharks who failed the foundering auto industry in the Senate, Bush shouldn't let ideology stand in the way.

Initially, GOP senators opposed the auto industry bailout as an affront to capitalism, preferring to let the free market determine the fate of private firms.

But, as the evidence mounted that the collapse of General Motors and Chrysler would sink the overall economy, Republican senators reluctantly agreed to negotiate loans. They couldn't, however, pass up the opportunity to try to bust the union, another practice that free-marketeers hold dear.

As a condition for the loans, the senators insisted that the United Auto Workers agree to immediate wage cuts that would bring their contracts into line with their non-union counterparts at Honda and Nissan assembly plants in the South. The union, which has already made numerous concessions, was willing to accept wage reductions, but at a slower pace. And that was enough for GOP senators to reject the agreement, and send Detroit careening toward the cliff.

Bush, too, is a free-market ideologue. His administration's laissez-faire regulatory policies helped create the credit crisis that sent auto sales plunging.

Now he has a chance to redeem himself. For the sake of the economy, which shed 1.2 million jobs in the three months ending Nov. 30, Bush needs to seal the deal that the Senate killed.

LINK:Step on it - Salt Lake Tribune
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