Washington Matters


GOP Senators Drop the Ball



The handling of the auto bailout by Senate Republicans is confusing and even troubling. I don't think anyone would argue that a lawmaker doesn't have a duty to oppose legislation that he or she thinks is wrong or won't work. But how much sense does it make to be so rigid that the solution ends up being even worse, at least in your view, than what you rejected? Yet that seems to be exactly what GOP opponents, and four Democrats, may have done.

Convinced that collapse would do huge harm to the economy, the Bush administration looks ready to provide at least the same amount to the auto industry as the $14 billion bridge loans envisioned by Congress.

What's mystifying is that Republicans spent most of Thursday narrowing their differences with Democrats down to one last demand -- that auto workers accept a pay cut by a date certain next year. Now all the other limits Republicans had pried loose from Democrats -- including a requirement that bond holders accept a write down of auto industry debt -- are gone, too. Republican opponents are pushing Bush to include some of those restrictions in whatever package he puts forward. But that's far from a sure thing, meaning Detroit could end up getting its loans with few or none of the conditions that Republicans actually had in hand. How have Republicans left their mark or helped their position by voting away conditions that they had fought so hard to achieve?

A large part of the answer is politics, but not simply partisan politics. After all, President Bush had pushed for this package and with the collapse of GM and Chrysler staring him and the country in the face, he is now about to take steps -- using the financial rescue money -- that he had once ruled out. Rather, the divide appears to be geographic, economic and ideological.

The core of opposition comes from Southern states with a historic dislike for the labor movement. Many of those are home to non-union plants owned by foreign firms like Toyota, Nissan and Honda that settled in the South because of lower wage costs. On the other hand, the 10 Republicans who broke ranks with the party tend to be more friendler to labor unions or from states with large industrial centers or domestic auto plants, including Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Kansas.




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