By TOM WALSH • FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
When Hurricane Katrina slammed into Louisiana and Alabama on Aug. 29, 2005, the automobile companies of Detroit did not harrumph that the Gulf Coast should have been better prepared.
They didn’t sit back and wait for New Orleans to submit a detailed plan for future repair of the ruptured levees.
General Motors Corp., on Aug. 30 donated $400,000 to the American Red Cross 2005 Relief Fund, pledged to match up to $250,000 more in employee contributions and sent more than 150 vehicles to the stricken area for use in relief work.
Ford Motor Co. and the UAW quickly made a joint donation of $100,000 to the Red Cross. The Chrysler Group gave $150,000 to the Red Cross and $200,000 to local New Orleans charities; DaimlerChrysler Services chipped in $200,000 for the Red Cross and pledged to match employee donations up to $50,000.
Between them, the three Detroit auto companies gave more than $18 million in cash and vehicles to the Katrina relief effort in the ensuing months. No strings attached.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, should think about that before he casts his vote on a Senate bill to provide $14-billion in emergency rescue loans to GM and Chrysler.
Vitter said Wednesday that he plans to vote against the bill because, in his words, it is “ass-backwards” to give money to the distressed companies before Congress sees more detailed survival plans.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, should think about Hurricane Katrina, too. He has threatened a filibuster against the bill, calling it “a bridge loan to nowhere” and stating that Detroit’s automakers should undergo a fundamental restructuring before they ask Congress for money.
None of the logical arguments made by, or on behalf of, Detroit’s auto industry seem to resonate with certain congressional critics.
Not the fact that GM, Ford and Chrysler have slashed billions of dollars in costs. Not the fact that they have the nation’s top-selling pickup trucks and minivans. Not the fact that they have lots of high-mileage vehicles and more on the way. Not the fact an auto company bankruptcy would have a horrible ripple effect, wiping out scores of suppliers and make hundreds of thousands more U.S. workers jobless.
No, to resolute auto rescue opponents in the Senate, Detroit doesn’t make cars people wants. It’s a dinosaur not worth preserving.
Could the opinions of these senators be colored by the fact that the foreign-owned plants of Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, BMW, Nissan and Volkswagen – which compete against the Detroit Three – are located in their states?
Nah, let’s not even go there.
Let’s just say that if logical arguments don’t work, we should shame them into doing the right thing.
If you see a fellow American is drowning, gasping for air, do you quiz him for awhile about whether he’s drunk or why he never learned to swim better? Or do you throw him a lifebuoy and ask questions later?
That, it seems to me, is where we are with America’s car companies.
You can do nothing and watch them die, senators.
Or you can rush in immediately with emergency aid – as GM, Ford and Chrysler did in the case of Hurricane Katrina, and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, and during countless other disasters.
And you can hold their feet to the fire afterward, empowering a strong auto czar to make sure they do what’s needed to withstand future shocks.
Posted by Erin Rose at 5:09 PM