MY EXPERIENCE with U.S.-made cars is limited and less than rewarding.
It was a blue late-'80s Pontiac 6000 sedan, known in my family as "The 6-K."
It was my father-in-law's, used mostly in its (and his) final summer by one of my then-college-aged sons for transport to various medical treatments.
Despite low mileage, it stalled often, was a sweatbox with nonfunctioning air conditioning, windows that could not be rolled down and had, to add to its attractiveness, an active wasp nest attached to the exterior driver's-side mirror.
I subsequently sold it to a used-car dealer, nest included, for $100 American.
I honestly thought I'd have to pay him to take it.
So, if I was on a congressional committee that today and tomorrow hears from Detroit on new requests for a huge taxpayer bailout, I'd likely be less than welcoming.
GM, Ford and Chrysler are back in D.C. seeking $34 billion, which is $9 billion more than they wanted two weeks ago. That's when they flew in on private jets, hubcaps in hand, with no real plan on how to use the money or when to pay it back.
As plain-spoken farmer and bailout-suspicious Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, asked yesterday: What happened in two weeks?
And yet GM and Chrysler say that they can't get to the end of the year without help, our own Arlen Specter calls the consequence of their bankruptcy "perhaps cataclysmic" and GM president Fritz Henderson says, "There is no Plan B."
Which is, to me, troubling and reflective of the problem - apparently there never was a "Plan B."
As foreign, especially Japanese, automakers produced more popular, more efficient cars, our Big Three kept making gas guzzlers and variations of "The 6-K."
As our car companies started shedding workers and shutting plants, their top execs continued pocketing obscene pay.
CEOs of GM and Ford now say that they'll work for $1 a year as Chrysler's CEO already does, though who knows what undisclosed compensation goes with that?
Heck, I'd work for a nickel a year if my past pay was anything like theirs. Forbes magazine says that GM boss G. Richard Wagoner Jr. got $24 million last year, Ford chief Alan Mulally, $21 million, and Chrysler's Robert Nardelli left Home Depot in January '07 (salary: $38 million) with a severance package worth $210 million.
Any wonder why these guys show up in private jets?
And I can't shake the sense that it's only now after witnessing giant government giveaways to AIG, Citigroup and others that they come forward with a do-or-die emergency request to save themselves and the economy with promises to be better and smarter.
This while one of their national TV ads tout a "red tag" sale price of $57,000-plus for a new Cadillac Escalade SUV, regularly priced at $69,500 ($84,635 fully loaded).
The "sale" price is more than my first house cost.
I have little doubt that Detroit will get most if not all of what it wants.
But forgive my skepticism.
Congress' watchdog, the General Accounting Office, this week reports that with nearly half the $700 billion troubled-assets bailout gone, there's no way to tell if it's working since there's no way to ensure the program's "integrity, accountability and transparency."
True of so many things: like we had to go to war because of WMDs until we learn there were no WMDs; like we're not in a recession until we learn we've been in one for a year; and like the automakers need $25 billion until we learn they need much more.
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan, D.C.-based group, is still digesting Detroit's new bailout plan, but has concerns. Spokesman Steve Ellis tells me, "It seems like yet another example of money without a destination."
My concern is that its air conditioning won't work, its windows won't roll down and it'll come with wasps. *
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