Monday, June 1, 2009

Who Gave the Authority To Auto Task Force?

Judge Gonzalez approved the sale of Chrysler's assets to Fiat before Fiat could change its mind. GM is now in bankruptcy court. Many of their dealers will have to shut down, and no one has yet started counting the number of jobs that will be lost in the upstream, i.e. parts and material suppliers to the auto companies and subcontractors. All for 3-month work by the Auto Task Force, one of whose staff members was prominently featured in New York Times yesterday (31-year old ex-campaign aide).

I am still asking the same question to myself: Who authorized this Auto Task Force?

I searched for any Congressional bill authorizing the Task Force. I searched for an executive order authorizing the Task Force. A Congressional bill authorizing the President to form the Task Force. Any law, or binding instruction for the auto companies that they follow the direction given by the Auto Task Force. I haven't found any.

The Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act of 2008 (HR7321), which would have given the "car czar" extensive power, was killed in the Senate in December 2008.

So I have to conclude that the "authority" was assumed by the President and the Task Force by default, because no one else claimed it. They took it, and the Congress basically rolled over and became a bank to dispense money as requested.

And I found this from the White House Press Office web page (5/27/09 Press Briefings), so that you can judge it for yourself what the administration's thinking is: [emphasis is mine, and my musings in italic]

Q Robert, on autos -- not in the negotiating realm at all, but last week 36 members of the House wrote a letter to the President saying: We're a little concerned that the task force is making decisions that the legislative body also ought to have some role in. They talk about what happened to Chrysler -- this is members of a union who voted to make some sacrifices, yet they found out after the Chrysler deal that their jobs had been terminated. The implications for Chrysler dealerships they say are affecting their constituents.

Can you talk broadly about what it is about the task force that gives it so much legitimate power that members of Congress now wonder if the legislative branch also ought to have a more direct voice and legislative role in as the future of the auto industry is being debated and decided here at the White House.

[Valid question to me. Please read on to see if Mr. Gibbs answers the question. (Hint: He doesn't)]

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's first of all, just for some context, Major, understand that decisions on plant closings and decisions on dealerships are not made by the auto task force or by its members or people that work in the White House. These are decisions that are made by companies about what it is they believe is the best path toward renewed viability for their company. And understand that in the case of Chrysler I think 75 percent of the auto dealers remained open; that encompasses about 87 percent of annual auto sales.

I would say this to any member of Congress and to any member of the public: If it weren’t for the task force on autos, and if it weren’t for the President's intervention, a hundred percent of those dealerships would be gone, a hundred percent of those plants would be closed, and Roger would have just asked me about the liquidation assets of Chrysler, rather than whether or not we're making progress with General Motors.

[100%, Mr. Gibbs?]

So, look, Congress certainly is involved in auto decisions obviously as it relates to setting fuel mileage standards that the President worked on last week, as well as proposals to create tax incentives to trade in older cars that aren’t doing as well on fuel mileage, to both increase auto sales and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But I think the vast majority of members I think are appreciative of the efforts of the task force each and every day in order to keep as much as we possibly can in a viable auto industry here in America.

[Now finally. Congress's role in anything auto is to set the mileage standards and tax incentive proposals, according to the White House.]

Q And those lawmakers who would agree with your initial point that the White House has not made decisions on dealerships or union contracts being terminated or kept, they would also point out that the viability standard is set by the task force and decisions flow from that viability standard set here at the White House. Therefore, the White House does have an enormous say, some might say an inordinate say, in things affecting their constituents. And your response to that would be?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say that we have a major role to play, and I think we are playing it in a way that is preserving and protecting as many jobs as possible, protecting as many communities as possible, and hopefully restructuring -- working to restructure an auto industry that has fallen on vastly hard times, and that we're doing all that we can to move that in a different direction.

[Yes, jobs in GM Europe have been certainly saved. And China's, too.]


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