In their last obstruction, Mitch “Dr. No” McConnell’s Senate Republicans blocked a bridge loan for the auto companies, unwilling even to sustain them long enough for a new administration to sculpt a responsible response to their crisis.
What was the sticking point? It wasn’t getting rid of the CEOs that drove the companies into the ditch. It wasn’t forcing the creditors to cut their loans in exchange for stock, giving them a stake in the future. It wasn’t accepting an auto czar to enforce the agreement and drive a transition to fuel efficient cars. That was agreed to.
No. Led by benighted Tennessee Senator Bob Corker – known previously solely for his “call me” race-bait campaign ad that helped him win his 2006 election – Republicans wanted to break the union and punish the workers.
They insisted that the United Auto Workers agree to cutting workers wages and benefits immediately to match the average hourly compensation paid by non-union foreign auto companies based in the South. This would entail cuts in pay by about 50 percent within the next months. For Republicans, the problem wasn’t the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It wasn’t wrong-headed management that was skewered when soaring gas prices wiped out their SUV cash cows. It wasn’t the Wall Street dominated trade policies that sacrificed US manufacturing behind a high dollar that made it profitable to move plants and production abroad and benefited foreign competitors.
No. For the Republican senators, the bailout was a chance for a little class warfare. Why should an autoworker make $50,000-$60,000 a year, plus health care? The workers should accept half that and be happy. Autoworkers have agreed to wage givebacks and benefit cuts over the last years. They pledged even deeper cuts in relation to the agreement. But their sacrifices weren’t great enough nor the cuts fast enough for Corker and the Republicans.
Now imagine telling a family that lives on from $50,000 to $60,000 a year that they will make one-half that in six months. They’ve got mortgages, kids in school and credit-card debts just like the rest of us. Outside of the Wall Street bankers who the administration has succored without asking them to slash their wages in half, how many Americans could survive a cut of half their paycheck in a few months, without going bankrupt? How many senators who pay themselves six-figure incomes with lavish pensions and health care could manage an immediate 50 percent reduction in their salaries? (Most of them, come to think of it, since the Senate is a millionaires’ club).
Forget about the deepening recession. The Senate Republican position was essentially that the price of bailing out GM and Chrysler was to insure that the union was broken and the workers went bankrupt.
It was, of all people, Vice President Dick Cheney who reportedly warned the Republican caucus that failure to pass the bill would lead to an even worse economic downturn, that it would be “Herbert Hoover time” if the bill didn’t pass. And after the Republicans torpedoed the bill, the Asian and European stock markets plummeted, with Wall Street about to follow.
There are defining moments in politics. Here Republicans defined themselves. They are not free-market conservatives, for they were willing to do the bailout. They don’t object to nationalizing the banks or micromanaging the auto industry on the fly. They are class warriors, willing to risk a worse global economic calamity in order to break a union and force workers into bankruptcy. “Herbert Hoover time.” Let’s not forget this last ignoble obstruction, committed just as the Senators went home for the holidays.