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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, the significance of the U.S. auto industry as the symbol of American creativity, industriousness, and prosperity is hard to overstate. So is the importance of its continued survival to millions of American workers who design, build or sell our cars here and around the world. This is precisely why many of us have been insisting for years that management and labor take the tough but necessary steps to keep these companies viable not only in a recession but also in good times.
Unfortunately, many of these tough decisions have been put off time and again, and the day of reckoning has come for two of the big three automakers. Yesterday, the administration announced that GM and Chrysler had failed to come up with viable plans for survival, despite tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts aimed at avoiding this very situation.
The immediate result of this failure on the part of the automakers was the administration's decision to fire GM'S CEO and the promise of even more bailout money if these companies take the same kinds of steps Republicans have been demanding, literally, for years. Last fall, when the recession took hold, Republicans said emergency support was justifiable for entities whose failure threatened to paralyze the Nation's entire economy. Taxpayer support for individual industries was not. Our reasoning was, taxpayers should understand an effort to save an entire credit system--literally the lifeblood of the Main Street economy--but they wouldn't support the Government picking winners and losers based on political or regional calculations.
While no one takes pleasure in the continued struggles of the automakers, those warnings and that principle appear to have been vindicated by recent events. If our proposal had prevailed last fall, these two companies would have been forced to make the serious structural changes that billions of dollars in taxpayer money since then have not been able to produce. Republicans said the expectation of bailouts disincentivizes reform, and it appears we were absolutely right.
In early December, I said a tentative compromise between labor and management didn't go nearly far enough; what was needed was a firm commitment on the part of these companies to reform either in or out of bankruptcy, get their benefit costs under control, make wages competitive with foreign automobile makers immediately, and end the practice of paying workers who don't work. I also said automakers had to rationalize dealer networks in response to the market.
The previous administration took a different view. It said an emergency infusion of taxpayer money would be enough to force these companies and labor leaders to act. The current administration agreed with that assessment, and last month, when the automakers came back again for more money, the current administration complied with an additional $5 billion infusion of taxpayer dollars. The latest infusion appears to have had little or no effect.
Yesterday, we got the verdict: 4 months and $25 billion taxpayer dollars after Republicans called for tough but needed reform, the automakers are no further along than they were in December. As a result, the current administration has decided the bailouts can't go on forever, although they are still putting the cutoff date well into the future. The taxpayer regret for this bailout is that it could have cost a lot less than $25 billion. The answer to this problem was obvious months ago.
Throughout this debate, some have tried to propagate the falsehood that this is a regional issue; certain Senators oppose bailout because domestic automakers don't operate in their States. If that were true, I certainly wouldn't be standing here. Thousands of Kentuckians work at Ford assembly plants in Louisville, thousands more work for domestic suppliers throughout Kentucky, and for more than 30 years, every Corvette in America has rolled off a production line in Bowling Green, KY.
Those of us who oppose unlimited bailouts for struggling automakers don't want these companies to fail. We want them to succeed. If our proposals had been adopted, we believe they would be in a much better position to do so.
Hard-working autoworkers at places such as Ford and GM in Kentucky have suffered because of the past decisions of unions and management. It is not their fault labor and management made the decisions that put them in this mess. It is no coincidence that Ford--the only U.S. automaker that has refused taxpayer bailout money to date--is also the most viable, even after the financing arm of one of its bailed-out competitors used taxpayer funds to provide its customers with better financing deals. Companies that make the tough choices and steer their own ship are better off in the short and the long term.
Everyone wants the domestic automakers to get through the current troubles and to thrive. But it is going to take more than tough talk after the fact or the firing of CEOs. It is encouraging to see the administration is coming around to our point of view. It is a shame the taxpayers had to put up $25 billion to get to this point.
Mr. President, I would like to speak briefly on two of the amendments we will be considering today on the budget. One protects Americans from a new national energy tax in the form of an increase in electricity and gasoline prices at a time when they can least afford it, and one brings transparency to the budget process.
The first amendment we will consider, sponsored by the junior Senator from South Dakota, says the reserve fund in the budget resolution for climate change cannot be used for legislation that would increase electricity or gasoline prices for American consumers.
An increase in electricity and gas prices would disproportionately affect people at the lower end of the economic ladder, and American families cannot afford a tax increase at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet. Passing this amendment would protect them from the additional burden of the new national energy tax included in the administration's budget.
The second amendment, sponsored by the junior Senator from Nebraska, bars the use of reconciliation when considering climate change legislation, thus assuring an open, bipartisan debate on this job-killing and far-reaching proposal.
Democratic budget writers who support reconciliation know their plans for a new national energy tax are unpopular with both Republicans and Democrats. That is why they are trying to fast-track this legislation down the road and prevent its critics from having their say. The strategy of the reconciliation advocates is clear: Lay the groundwork for a new national energy tax that could cost American households up to $3,100 a year, keep it quiet, then rush it through Congress, leaving transparency and debate in its wake.
Americans deserve better. They expect a full and open debate, particularly on a piece of legislation as far-reaching as this. The proposal by the junior Senator from Nebraska would ensure that.
Here are two Republican ideas Americans support. I would urge my colleagues to do the same by voting in favor of both the Johanns and the Thune amendments.
I yield the floor.
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