Open Debate About Auto Industry Loans Hijacked by Conservatives

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The government’s likely intervention in the auto industry—announced in a tentative agreement reached this weekend between the White House and Congress—calls for vigorous, honest debate about whether and on what terms the auto companies should be provided government assistance. Unfortunately, the debate has been hijacked by the untrue vitriol of conservative ideologues pushing their pre-existing political agenda to attack workers and their unions. These false charges deflect attention from the real, substantive conversation that the public deserves about the costs and benefits of action, and avoids any discussion of executive compensation or management’s accountability for their business decisions.

Clearly, action is needed. The collapse of the U.S. auto industry would reduce tax revenue by $150 billion per year, according to one estimate, and it would put 3 million American jobs at risk in an economy that has already shed nearly 2 million jobs this year. These severe consequences, in addition to the national security concerns of losing our manufacturing base, the potential to transform the U.S. auto industry into an alternative energy leader, and the need to be consistent and not apply a double standard to the auto industry and the financial sector, make government intervention—on the right terms—the right thing to do.

It is crucial, given the gravity of the consequences, that the conversation move beyond the conservatives’ petty, misleading charges to a more honest discussion of the facts. The truth is the United Auto Workers, or UAW, is not primarily responsible for the current state of the auto industry. Rather, they have been a reasonable, productive partner in the industry’s efforts to restructure.

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