It was pretty grim for the Big Three automakers of Detroit on the Hill Wednesday. After flying into D.C. in their private jets, C.E.O.’s Rick Wagoner of General Motors, Robert Nardelli of Chrysler, and Alan R. Mulally of Ford were no longer in the friendly territory of Detroit, but on the hot seat during a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee.
In fact according to an industry lobbyist reporting to Politico.com, “It was a bloodbath.”
The Big Three came to town on Tuesday along with the United Auto Workers (UAW) to plead for a government bailout of $25 billion for the automakers, and an additional $25 million for the UAW.
Thinking their chances were pretty good since money had been handed out so freely and easily to Wall Street, they were a bit shocked at their harsh treatment. After all, over the last 10 years, according to OpenSecret.org, Detroit’s Big Three have expended $228.4 million in lobbying costs in Washington. Out of this quarter-of-a-billion dollars, GM spent $92.9 million, Ford spent $78.6 million, and Chrysler, $56.9 million.
That would include $20 million in support of various candidates in the last five presidential elections, with 60 to 70 percent going to Republican candidates.
In the first half of 2008, GM spent $7.3 million on Washington lobbying activities. Ford shelled out $3.8 million, and Chrysler another $3.3 million in gaining the ears of those who redistribute taxpayers’ wealth. (American Institute for Economic Research)
In other words, they feel they have helped buy a bailout.
So, what were they lobbying so heavily for up until now? The carmakers fought hard in recent years against two Congressional efforts to raise fuel economy standards, at a time when Americans were struggling with more expensive gasoline and had become more environmentally conscious. They won the 2005 fight, saying they did not have the technology to meet a modest increase. (NY Times)
If they are granted a bailout, and at this point that is anything but certain, it will most certainly come with stipulations. Not only accountability after the lack of oversight on the Wall Street bailout, but a promise of making cars more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly.
In the past The Big Three have come to the Hill as bullies, demanding and usually getting their way. Now the tables are turned and they have few friends in their corner. Instead of spending money to fight technology, they would have been better served to spend that money retooling their plants to produce advanced fuel-efficient cars.