By on December 13, 2008

Earlier this month, in their search for bailout bucks for Detroit, Congress caved to the President’s insistence that legislators leave the $700b Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) alone. Last week, Congress failed to activate Plan B: hijacking the $25b funds they’d already allocated to the Department of Energy for “retooling” loans. At the eleventh hour, President Bush said, “Oh, alright then. Let’s talk TARP.” And so Plan C: the President of The United State will outline his plan to put up to $15b in play from the TARP monies. It’s a stunning about-face, whose details will be revealed on Monday. Those are the broad strokes. Before suggesting the presidential approach to Detroit’s debacle, let’s zoom in…

Congress’ bailout bill blew-up in the Senate, not the House, which gladly offered-up your money for a faulty plan. The Senate Republicans were not happy creating a powerless “car czar” to oversee the public purse. Senator Dick Shelby was right– the toothless bill would have become an endless payout to Detroit. Senator Corker offered the United Auto Workers (UAW) a deal to make it work. UAW Boss Ron Gettelfinger passed on “parity” with the transplants, as Corker demanded in his alternative legislation. Big Ron said they’d talk about it at their next contract round, in 2011.

And there you have it: proof positive that the UAW isn’t about to make a wholesale change in how they do business. If left in the care of an enfeebled car czar, they’d go along to get along, and nothing more. And now the UAW is banking on money from the TARP as a “holdover”– so they can maintain the status quo until a Democratic President and Congress can… maintain the status quo.

And this is just the union side of the equation. For some reason, GM CEO and Chairman of the Board Rick Wagoner is still in charge of the failed American automaker. Congress has bought Wagoner’s umpteenth “turnaround plan” without question. This despite the fact that its worst case scenario is too optimistic by half and there is nothing within it– nothing– that promises a necessary product and brand-related renaissance. As long as Wagoner’s administration remains, the possibility of GM making profits is– indeed remains– minimal.

So now the ball’s in President Bush’s court. Short of letting the free market exact its final determination (an inevitable reckoning), it’s time for a tough deal. In fact, President Bush has the opportunity now to craft the deal that needs to get done, recognizing the fact that GM and Chrysler are already bankrupt.

First, the President must demand that each company puts up collateral equal or greater to the loan amount advanced. Since no commercial lender will provide funds, and the government is using our money, we want protection. Especially as $15b represents a lifeline to future funding requests, not a solution to GM and Chrysler’s fundamental problems.

This caveat would force Chrysler’s collapse. This company has no collateral of value; existing lenders already have tied that up. Either Cerberus puts something else up of value, or it doesn’t. And that means lights out for the Pentastar. That’s a good thing for taxpayers; there’s no future for Chrysler on its own. Period. And ChryCo’s cratering will help GM and Ford survive.

Second, the President must demand that the UAW immediately end the JOBS Bank (not just suspend it). The JOBS Bank language effectively forces GM (and the rest of Detroit) to pay off workers with huge termination packages to leave their jobs when plants are closed. It’s the so-called “Attrition Program” agreed to by the UAW. I’m not against providing some money when jobs are lost, but GM needs to restructure now (again). It can’t afford big payouts to let labor go.

Third, the President must insist that GM begin negotiations to restructure its balance sheet. The Commander-in-Chief can force GM to provide a go-forward balance sheet and viable operating plan– by not advancing the total funds GM needs to survive until March. He can set January 15th, a week before President Obama takes office, as a deadline.

Basically, we’re asking GM’s highly paid bankruptcy advisory team to write the Plan of Reorganization (“POR”) today (without negotiation with creditors). This POR would illustrate – in a public document – exactly how GM can become a viable company. It would let outsiders comment on its validity and believability. It will tell all the parties where they will come out in the end. And it sets the stage for President Obama and Congress to make the final decision whether it’s better for GM to go through bankruptcy or not.

Lastly, the President should place all the usual terms and conditions about executive compensation, prohibitions on golden parachutes, no mergers/acquisitions and tough GAO oversight with weekly reporting.

I hope that President Bush doesn’t punt on his responsibilities with our money. Kicking the problem down the line to the next administration is an easy solution, but not the right one. The President needs to step up and start the end of the madness. He should set the stage for a real and meaningful program for a long overdue restructuring of GM. Chrysler is already dead, so why continue the charade? Ford, well that is for later…

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37 Comments on “Editorial: Bailout Watch 287: Executive Orders...”

  • avatar

    Ken: Thoughtful, well-written piece. One suggested add-on, just to followup explicitly on what is implicit in your editorial: Wagoner, Lutz and the GM board have to go, sans parachutes.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Uh, no mention of tossing Wagoner & Friends out on the street?

  • avatar

    I don’t think the prez has the power to do these things. But things like have never stopped Bush Jr.

    He can legally do all of the above by doing nothing and rejecting any bailout bill that crosses his desk. Thus forcing all options, except chapter 11 BK, off the table. That is the medicine they need anyhow.

  • avatar

    Good post. I can’t agree however with the comment that Lutz needs to go.

    I know Lutz has been part of this inept management team for some time. But, when GM does reemerge from this thing (either chapter 11 or Govt. handout) they simply must built cars THAT PEOPLE WANT TO BUY. Lutz isn’t perfect, but he knows how to built appealing cars, and that’s what’s really missing from GM.

    Some of his products…MR4TI, Viper, Ram Truck, PT Cruiser, Solstice, new Camero, Volt. You can even see his fingerprints all over the Malibu. I recognize that the current Malibu is no Accord, but it’s so much better than the last generation that I’m compelled to think he’s turning the ship. He’s been there seven years…in an industry where platform development takes up to about five years. This is a big ship that turns slowly…but my opinion is that the ship IS turning (it’s just early still).

    Yes, he’s made silly comments about Hybrids…no one is right 100% of the time. He’s an ex-fighter pilot…he builds cars that excite people…something sorely missed at GM (outside of the Corvette team).

    Just my opinion.

  • avatar

    First off, I am a member of the CAW for the next 17 days anyway.Cause I don’t pay taxes in the USA
    my opinion counts for squat.

    Our government, provincial and federal has got thier act together and pledged 20% of whatever the United States comes up with.3B$ was the last I heard.I do pay taxes, and lots of em in Canada.

    Now of course the CAW is under great pressure to make concessions.As of today nobody has said any specifics.

    So for the sake of arguement, lets say we lower our wages and benifits to the non contract full time package that the transplants recieve.If thats what it takes to survive,the union will eat it.
    Oh yeah there will be lots of coughing and gaging
    but it will go down.

    But you know where I see a stumbling block?
    How about management cutting thier numbers and compensation to the transplants.How do you see that going over in the ivory towers?

    Oh yes so easy to blame those greedy union fu—ers eh?Oh yeah the press was all over us yesterday
    Up here in our socialist utopia how quick they are to balk at helping the US auto industry.
    Oh how soon they forget where the money comes from to pay for our frozen paradise.

    Just a little message for my fellow Canucks

    The US car companys and the Canadian Auto Workers
    have carried Ontario for a long time.Ontario has carried Canada for a long time.Oh I forgot about the oil in Alberta.Seems to me its worth about 45 a barrel now.Me thinks without the USA to help us extract it from the sand,and provide a market we would be kind’a fuc–d eh?Lets not even think of where would be without thier military strength.

    So now hosers we got help our OWN economy and at the same time our friends south of the border.It
    ain’t gonn’a kill us.

    So pay the money and shut the fuck up

  • avatar

    So pay the money and shut the fuck up

    as an american, that really changed my mind on the whole bailout thing – let’s do it!

  • avatar

    “…to get this kind of junk and probably from people who have maybe a little more background in the politics/business sectors.”

    sorry. evidently that post was removed.

  • avatar

    Hi all,

    Did you see that Stiglitz came out against the bailout, and for a pre-packaged chapter 11? It is in the Financial Times

    Makes sense to me . . .


  • avatar

    And why were none of these concessions (wage cuts, bankruptcy plans, etc.) asked of the financial industry before we forked over a bailout at least 20 times as large as the one proposed for the Detroit 3?

  • avatar


    I believe the saying burned once twice shy comes to mind. They screwed up with the TARP program and are not about to make the same mistake twice.

  • avatar

    Ken, I’m trying to calculate the minimum the Bush bail-gift could be. You know, just enough to meet payroll until January 20. Since GM’s assembler payroll was $8.6B/year in 2005, that’s $33.5M per working day. For 25 working days, that’s just $836M and then it all is Obama’s problem. Never mind that silly business about the development or actual assembly of cars, this is just about jobs.

  • avatar


    I would agree with that, except that some of the financial sector (e.g. AIG) have already been back for ‘second helpings’. So the government has already screwed up twice.

    Frankly, I think the best use of our taxpayer money right now would be to ask the Detroit 3 “OK, how much do you need to get to March 31, 2009?”, and give it to them.

    That would give us 4 months to switch administrations, get a new Congress, and think about what a long-term restructuring of the auto industry should look like.

    Right now, most of the proposals on all sides of the debate fall into the “Disaster Capitalism” model (“Give us what we want RIGHT NOW or all Hell will break loose”). We’ve had quite enough of that over the past 8+ years.

  • avatar

    Eric, there is simply no comparison between dealing with the banking system and saving other types of businesses. Apples and oranges.

    Banks are effectively part of the Treasury. Indirectly, they effectively print money.

    Recessions become depressions when banks collapse en masse. Those who know their economic history know this, which is why those such as Ben Bernanke are so eager to prop up the banking system.

    During economic downturns, companies fail. The incompetent companies are sure to fail, because subpar performance doesn’t cut it when times are bad.

    We can debate whether a bailout is necessary for practical reasons related to the stability of the economy. But I frankly find it offensive when the Detroit Defenders act as if the 2.8 deserve my money.

    Detroit worked overtime toward failure for decades, screaming about patriotism while simultaneously screwing ordinary, hardworking Americans left and right. They deserve to fail.

    Maybe we need to save them, or at least prop them up temporarily, for our own reasons. But they are not entitled to a penny.

    The 2.8 have benefited from good timing. If we weren’t facing the largest economic downturn in seventy years, nobody with any common sense would even be thinking of saving them. Unfortunately, with the timing of the situation, this sort of blackmail can go unpunished and may even be rewarded.

    I may end up writing the check, but don’t expect me to be grateful for having done it. And those who have jobs there should be on their knees thanking us for bailing them out, even though they will have never deserved a single nickel of it.

  • avatar

    Recessions become depressions when banks collapse en masse.

    those who know their economic history know that there are still arguments among economists about the causes of the great depression, which are thought to include reduction in purchasing, reduction in ability to pay taxes, debt, false prosperity, unemployment and banks being dumb with money.

    so while it might be comparing apples and oranges it’s still comparing fruit which might go rotten on us.

  • avatar

    Why is it all-caps “JOBS” bank? Do the letters stand for something, or it it like HUMMER?

    Unrelated, in the second paragraph:

  • avatar

    I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on this one as a fellow Ontarian who is well aware as to how dire this situation is. What will Canada’s $3 Billion do but prolong an untenable situation for a few months at best?
    How would that money truly affect what is going to happen to the auto industry in Ontario?
    They might as well spend the $3 billion to buy up the manufacturing facilities and help some Canadian companies get into minivan, pickup and Camaro manufacturing.

  • avatar


    I have read your many excellent comments on this site with interest and often with agreement with what you have to say but I think you are off base on this bailout boondoggle. As a resident of Durham (Newcastle) I often shudder to think of the affect of a GM collapse on the local economy. It is not a pleasant thought. That being said, any grant/loan/bailout that our Feds or provincial govs give to GM is a complete waste of money. GM is a seriously sick company. It is dysfunctional in almost every way imaginable. It will ineveitably collapse as we now know it. It is better it does so now rather than later. In fact it should have happened a long time ago. Now by collapse I actually mean a planned orderely and structured CH11 engineered to fix whats wrong and save as many jobs as possible so as you can continue in a good job working for a company that actually has a future. The fact that GM’s senior management team is still in place after the all the incompetent stupid decisions they have made is one of the great mysteries of our time. By the time GM make their second and third visit to the public purse, which will happen, the US taxpayers may well revolt (as well they should) because nothing is really going to change in the way GM does business unless they are forced to do so. If you handled your finances in the way GM does your creditors would quickly sort you out, why should GM or any company be any different. I have written to Bev Oda and John O’Toole to protest my taxes being spent on a sick and dying company like GM. If they must help the Automotive manufacturing sector they should spend it on Ford, Honda or Toyota, at least they seem to know how to run their businesses. Sorry Mikey I am not taking a shot at you, God knows I have many friends that work in GM Oshawa and I do not wish anyone there ill will. Enough is enough, GM must reap what it has sown.

  • avatar

    I always love that lefties like Eric forget that Lehman Bros. WAS allowed to go bankrupt. Wall Street shat themselves. Then the bank bailout FAILED the first time through the House because Main Street howled at cleaning up Wall Street’s mess. This isn’t an MSNBC staff meeting. We’re about the TRUTH, ‘member?

  • avatar

    There is no way the Bigish 2.801 can survive by selling automobiles…They need to get Bob Lutz to fly cocaine in from South America…Them telling us they can survive without a chapter 11 filing is their Bigish Lie.

  • avatar

    Good summary article of “the way it is”. Unfortunately the way things are proceeding, all of us will under one payout name or the other, have to waste a lot of our money to see Chrysler go away.

    The only weak link in the validity of the article may be GM’s assets. This part “…puts up collateral equal or greater to the loan amount advanced..” it seems to me what we need is an article by some detail oriented commercial lending analyst to break down that very thing – GM’s balance sheet. Including assets already pledged as collateral and ball park estimates of asset values when possible. Isn’t this needed before we can say there’s any future for GM, or any bailout money possible with collateral worth that name ?

    And Kurt, as a fellow Ontarian I agree with you however I think we are “locked in” by bad luck and circumstance. How do we escape this jail? Just bend over… What I mean – The size of our bailout funds will amount to more than double what the American taxpayers will pay, on a per capita basis. Then that will quickly become triple and quadruple as the shift of remaining jobs oozes southward, just watch and weep. Fuzzy math indeed. Don’t count on even close to 10% of the billions paid out having any value to Canada after as little as one year.

  • avatar

    Lots of holes in this argument. Shelby and others are so strongly for the capitalist system except when it comes to their own states. Car builders with factories in their states have already been to the trough, so it’s a little late to get righteous about that. Exactly what did Corker put forth? Has anyone seen anything in writing? What does parity with the transplants mean anyway, since their pay scales vary widely from plant to plant. It’s my understanding that Toyota pays about $27 an hour at Georgetown, plus some kind of 401K and some medical care money as I understand it. And bonuses at Georgetown were as much as $6-8K. Honda is paying $14.84 at Greensburg to start with eventual raises to over $20. Honda wages at Marysville start at $15.35 and top out at $24.40. So what was Corker’s plan? We don’t know.

    I saw an interview with Wilbur Ross the night Corker was basking in the light. Ross is a VERY impressive guy IMO; no emotion, no bullshit, just cold facts and logic all the time. He said the Corker play was a stunt since there was no way in hell the financial parties involved were involved nor could they possibly agree to anything in the time frame in play.

    Everybody with the possible exception of Wagoner, Lutz and some of the bystanders knows this thing is headed for the rocks bailout or not. The only variables are when and how. What a bailout will do is postpone it and provide some time that will hopefully be used to lessen the impact on the society as a whole. GM has been headed for the wall for years, and, like a weakened person who dies during a cold snap, this financial train wreck hastened their demise.

    The republican hacks are taking advantage of the situation to sell their union busting idea. Sadly, much of the gullible public have been sold on the free market bullshit and are lapping it up. Ignorance plus jealousy make a powerful combo, and the ‘conservatives’ are making hay. As Obama said, Reagan was a transformational figure having sold the lower economic classes on the idea that their interests aligned with the wealthy.

    Edit: A point about the jobs bank. It gets a lot of negative publicity, but look at what Toyota is doing in their truck plants. They’re paying the workers to ‘train’, do maintenance, etc. Sounds a lot better than paying them a percentage of normal pay to stay home, but it’s still a money loser, and we’ll see where this goes if sales stay way low for an extended period. The transplants have had it easy in this regard since they’ve been running flat out nearly all the time. But if they decide to lay people off, we’ll see what happens when they call them back. If sales are good, they might not have time to train rookies and get high production and high quality, so they’ll have to adjust in some way.

  • avatar

    UAW agreement to equivalent wages and benefits is only part of it. They need to eliminate the obstructionist work rules and make them equivalent.

    Management has to go. No golden parachutes. Equity has to be wiped out. Bond holders take a haircut.

    Plants have to be closed as the market dictates, and worker benefits should be the same as any other worker in the US gets. No more, no less.

  • avatar

    As Obama said, Reagan was a transformational figure having sold the lower economic classes on the idea that their interests aligned with the wealthy.

    Well, the interests of the lower economic classes who don’t want to be lower class forever certainly align with the wealthy.

    Better to have a system that encourages the creation of wealth for all rather than a system that encourages class warfare.

  • avatar

    Edit: A point about the jobs bank. It gets a lot of negative publicity, but look at what Toyota is doing in their truck plants.

    I was thinking about the same thing yesterday. When Detroit pays people for not working, the UAW gets slammed for its “job banks”. When Toyota and Honda use down time so workers can be “trained” or “educated” it’s seen as evidence of their business smarts.

  • avatar

    When Corker ran for his Senate seat, he ran against a black guy, Harold Ford, who had been a congressman in TN. Although the ad was claimed by the Republican National Committee, no way it would have been run without Corker’s signing on. This is the ad; part or all I don’t know. It drew significant comment due to the black guy – white woman tie in. I lived in rural TN for a couple of years, and guy in the bibs is right on.

  • avatar

    Better to have a system that encourages the creation of wealth for all rather than a system that encourages class warfare.

    If we want to promote upward mobility, we would get our public education system fixed. That would mean a funding source other than local property taxes. Class warfare can exist without being explicit.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    There are many bottom lines to this problem. Let’s take chysler, the one company that almost everyone agrees won’t make it. The people who now have chrysler got it for free. The complex deal worked out that they didn’t have to put up any money, just assume all of the liabilities. If ceberus could have split the assets out and sold them piecemeal for more money than they paid then they would have made their money as per plan and moved on. This they have done in numerous other of their deals. However, between the type of business they bought, the economy, the enormous costs of holding on while you are trying to gut the company etc., a total underestimation by some of the brightest bulbs on the tree occured. They now know why Daimler gave them chrysler for free and they are about to lose their ass. Doesn’t this sound like the time to call in the Federal troops?

  • avatar

    I go back and forth on this, but the seeming inflexibility of the UAW here has me thinking that it may be good in the long run that this thing failed.

    I however am very concerned about GM’s future as a HUMMER driver…Not an H2 or H3, but an 1151 uparmored version with a .50 cal on top and powerered by a big GM diesel. I am going to be walking enough in Afghanistan without added mileage due to parts unavailibity not to mention the fun involved in finding IEDs without the benefits of having a vehicle around you.

    To me this is the elephant in the room. The big 3 build a lot of the machines that are powering the war or at least the powerplants for them. Is someone going to build a retrofit kit to slap a VTEC Honda motor in my buffalo if Detroit fails?

  • avatar

    Well, the interests of the lower economic classes who don’t want to be lower class forever certainly align with the wealthy.

    such as giving wealthy people trillions of dollars in public money with few strings and no surety of payback. if i remember correctly, poor people were contacting their congresscritters in droves begging for the bailout.

    need another $100 bill to light that cigar, Mrs. CEO?

  • avatar

    mel23: regarding your comments regarding the job bank/UAW and what Toyota does, last time I looked, Toyota did not have its hat in hand begging for $34 billion in taxpapayers money. I also checked, last year Toyota and GM sold nearly the same number of cars yet Toyota earned billions in profits and GM had billions in losses. Enuf’ said.

  • avatar

    @ mkirk

    Firstly, stay safe.

    Secondly, the idea that any bits of the supply chain or complete manufacture that contribute to the military would be allowed to vanish, I think, is just nonsense. Sure they’ll be smaller, but someone will recognize the necessary bits of that industry and secure them away.

    Lobbyists put out the “but the Bigish3 are vital to our national security” lie and the MSM ran with it.

    Then we saw all sorts of ugly calls to action on faulty retelling of WW2 history. It’s another variant of Just do it BECAUSE they are the Bigish3. We owe them..

  • avatar

    In theory, it will be illegal for Bush to tap the TARP to fund GM and Chrysler. The TARP has legal language limiting it’s use to “financial” companies. Now, while one can easily call GMAC and Chrysler Financial “financial” companies, they are seperate entities from GM and Chrysler. Giving GM and Chrysler themselves TARP money is illegal. Not that Bush has ever obeyed the law, so who knows…

  • avatar


    No, not enough said as your statement didn’t begin to tell the whole story. Toyota routinely has had their hands out to state and local government when building and expanding a facility. I doubt that either of us, I know I don’t, have any idea of subsidies available to Toyota on their imports to the US. Japan does have a national health care system, and does play games with their currency, and both those factors contribute to their sales and profits here. I haven’t spent hours on the numbers, and might not have access to the data if I wanted to, but it’s my understanding that an enormous hunk of GM’s legacy costs are health care related. GM, and other employers that provide health care for their current and former employees also pay the way for those people who stiff the providers since the uncollected fees are spread among those who do pay. Where would GM be if we had a national health care system here? I don’t know, but the situation would be different.

    It looks like GM, Ford and Chrysler will shrink at best and possibly vanish. If this happens, and Honda stays to their game of avoiding large vehicles, Toyota will inherit that realm. What will their profit/loss numbers look like down the road when we hit another dry spell?

    It seems the transplants are trying hard to lower the wages of their workers, and if the UAW goes, this push will become more intense. Look at the working and pay conditions in the mines and factories when unions came into being. Does anyone think that corporations are more generous or ‘enlightened’ now? We soon forget why certain structures and regulations arose, and dismantle them at our peril. The current liquidity mess is an example. The push to deregulate was one pillar of the ‘conservative’ agenda, and we now see where that led. The ‘unions are bad’ idea was another and we’ll eventually learn that this tale is another dead end.

    Here’s an interesting link:


  • avatar

    The Detroit 3 have gotten their share of handouts from Federal and State governments in the past too.

    Republicans are right to lay the failure of the Senate vote at the boots of the UAW. The UAW talked of “consessions” that were no such thing – suspending the JOBS bank in favor of some other worker support program, delaying payment into the VEBA which can’t ever be afforded and for which they have to keep paying gold plated heath care, requiring buyouts for existing workers that must be shed in order to right size the company (closing unneeded plants, eliminating models, brands) when non-union businesses simply fire excess labor and touting the 2007 wage agreements as a concession when they only apply to new hires – new hires that aren’t brought in until the existing workers leave via attrition or buyouts yet again.

    The UAW needs to get realistic and make real consessions, like those asked of of shareholders, white collar workers and bondholders if GM is to survive.

    My only hope is that the Bush Administration implements the Corker plan using TARP money .

  • avatar

    @mel23: Keep telling the truth and shaming the devil. The wage controversy was nothing more than a political gotcha by the GOP to punish the unions that supported Barack Obama. The wage & benefit differences paid to unioned workers versus that of non-unioned workers was nothing that legitimately needed to be surrendered by the UAW. They had already made real concessions towards fixing the problem of the retiree system, one that now could see future retirees get less help than ones living now.

    The right lean amongst most of the auto enthusiast crowd will no doubt blame those damned unions, but The Truth About the Bailout Failure is this: The outgoing Republican majority decided to ‘show its ass’ one more time with it latest oppositon to working families, even defying the immediate ideals of the outgoing adminstration it once supported. And when GM and Chrysler do fail, making our recession even more disasterous– that’ll be all the more blame to lay at the feet of President Obama in 2012.

  • avatar

    @ digitalsoul

    I’m not trying to defend the GOP, but Shelby/Corker’s actions are not inconsistent with what they said in hearings the week previous.

    Corker singled out Cerberus for (probably) looking to get Chrysler a hand-out long enough to offload that pig.

    He singled out the UAW to understand that if your member’s employer fails, you got nothin’. He wanted the UAW to understand that bringing forward the 2011 concessions was probably essential.

    Without agreement ahead of bailout, he understood balances of negotiating leverage would change and there was potential for things to fail.

    The Democrats appear to have chosen to ignore those concerns in the presentation of their bill.

  • avatar

    Mikey: +1

    Executive Compensation needs to be brought in line with something… Something other than “Late ’90’s Big 3 – Masters of the Universe”.

    And the other white-collars should be ready to swallow a 20% salary reduction and start contributing for half of their health-care coverage.

    Let’s see what that does to new vehicle sales in SE Michigan? 12 million vehicles becomes 9 million vehicles, or less…

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