I almost didn’t call him back. Last week, I was surprised to see a message from USA Today columnist Rick Hampson in my daily email, seeking an interview to discuss the Big Three automaker bailout bill in Washington. Hampson said he was doing a piece on Kokomo’s reaction to the proceedings and was told that I would have a ‘unique’ opinion. In other words, USA Today was looking for someone to represent the anti-bailout crowd.
It is no secret that I have been a staunch opponent of the Big Three bailout, but I was still hesitant. And no, not because I feared a backlash from an automaker town. As I eventually told Hampson, people in central Indiana don’t have the knee-jerk reactions that they tend to have along the coasts. We typically give those we disagree with the benefit of the doubt and don’t consider them monsters…at least until we’ve heard them out.
No, my hesitation came from a fear that my remarks would be, for the sake of space, edited down to a mere line or two in an attempt to portray a “conflict” in Kokomo. But considering that an opportunity to talk to USA Today doesn’t come around everyday, I did the interview despite those reservations. I spent 35 minutes talking to Mr. Hampson about the rationale behind the position that a bailout is bad for the Big Three, bad for the workers, bad for Kokomo, and certainly bad for the taxpayer. I explained to him that beyond just the reality that taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to bail out failing businesses (no matter how large), a bailout will actually hasten the demise of the automakers while bankruptcy would not. Evidently, USA Today wasn’t interested in my motivations, but rather just wanted the money statement to show a contrasting view since all they printed was, “I hate to say it, but those companies have to suffer the consequences. A market without failure is no market at all.” That’s a true statement, but it would have been nice if Hampson had included the reality that I take this position for the well being of our friends, neighbors, and community in general.
The notion that a $14 billion ‘loan’ would help what ails the Big Three is as silly as it is sad. GM alone is bleeding $2 billion a month. Even if they received the full $14 billion themselves, that would have kept their head above water for a maximum of seven months. That means seven more months of anxiety for working families, seven more months of a failed business strategy, seven more months of out of touch, incompetent executives like Ford’s Mullally telling struggling workers that he deserves $25 million a year in salary just to end up in this same place. Taking $14 billion out of taxpayers’ pockets for that is the very definition of waste.
Contrary to its stigma, bankruptcy does not mean the end of companies. Ask the airline industry, which went through multiple bankruptcies and has emerged with a better business plan, better management, and has retained the vast majority of its employees. Without Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, companies and workers are subject to many dangers and uncertainties that could be avoided. When you consider that a bailout will only prolong, not prevent, the bankruptcy proceedings of these companies, the logical question is…why wait?
The thought that any American, particularly one who lives in central Indiana, wants to see the Big Three collapse is absurd. Personally, with a father-in-law whose retirement is through Chrysler, and a dearly loved Granny relying on her retiree healthcare from GM, I have a vested interest in seeing these companies survive and remain solvent. I love my American made Jeep just as I loved my American made Chevy Cavalier before it. That is why I adamantly oppose a taxpayer bailout that is unprincipled, unethical, and unwise. Bankruptcy will save jobs…a bailout will destroy them.
Peter W. Heck