Adding Teeth to a Detroit Bailout

Now that Detroit is begging for a handout to save itself, Congress should demand in return a serious, long-overdue increase in fuel efficiency standards for new cars and trucks.
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How many meetings over how many years did Congressional leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, Barbara Boxer, Edward Markey and others go hat in hand to the automakers and beg them to do something to help America, to improve fuel economy, to stop suing the states over clean car initiatives... and were shown the door.

Congress has used its regulatory muscle before to force Detroit to make other improvements to our cars, from seat belts and air bags to catalytic converters, all of which Detroit refused to do voluntarily. Now that the tables are turned and Detroit is doing the begging for a handout to save itself, Congress should demand in return a serious, long-overdue increase in fuel efficiency standards for new cars and trucks.

Just as they did with the Wall Street bailout stipulating an end to golden parachutes for CEOs, Congress should put some real teeth into any bailout negotiations with Detroit.

The Big 3's greed and lack of vision led them to the cliff's edge where they stand today, facing financial implosion unless the federal government swoops in to prop them up. These companies invited their impending destiny, and some have argued they ought to face the consequences of the market without federal intervention. But the fact is that America can't afford to lose the millions of jobs Detroit provides and the opportunity to lead on a manufacturing product that will see explosive foreign sales in the near future, especially in China and India.

So it's time for some tough love. What would you say to your kid who came to you looking for a handout after he or she had been warned repeatedly? Would you fork it over, no questions asked? Is that the life lesson you would pass on to your child? No way.

If Detroit needs more taxpayer bailouts to survive, we ought to demand some serious and real concessions in return, starting with an immediate cease-and-desist order for Detroit to drop its lawsuits against California, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Mexico and any other state that passes clean cars legislation requiring more efficient, less polluting vehicles. Enough already, Detroit. Stop fighting and start building clean cars now.

Congress should set strict guidelines to ensure that Detroit moves as quickly as possible to get clean cars into American driveways where they can help power a new smart grid like the one Al Gore described in Sunday's New York Times. Congress should also open the process beyond the Big 3, offering financial support to smaller entrepreneurial carmakers for large-scale production of their innovative all-electric and plug-in hybrid prototypes which lack financing to move from the concept contests and into dealer showrooms and consumer hands.

It's past time for Detroit to get serious about regaining America's once-proud role as a leader in automotive engineering. Congress must hold the automakers accountable in any bailout to ensure that our clean car 'future' starts now.

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