By TODD SPANGLER
FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF
February 11, 2009
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama says he remains committed to giving the domestic auto industry “serious help” in the future, but only if it proves its longtime viability and makes the changes necessary to turn the business into a profitable one going forward.
In that vein, he said he’s awaiting plans from Chrysler LLC and General Motors due to the government next Tuesday to justify a $17.4-billion loan to the two automakers about how they expect to transform their businesses.
If they are realistic, he said, more government help could be in the offing. If not, he said, “Then we’re going to have to ask them to go back to the drawing board.”
“Get me a plan that works,” the president said.
Obama’s remarks came in a wide-ranging White House interview with the Free Press and about a dozen reporters from elsewhere. While talking little of the specifics in a deal apparently reached by Democratic negotiators on a $789-billion economic stimulus plan, he still called for a quick resolution to the legislation, reiterating his belief that the economy will continued to tank without it.
Other subjects he dealt with included a “buy American” provision in the stimulus bill, saying that while he believes the U.S. is sometimes more open to imports than its trading partners are, policymakers must be careful not to send an isolationist signal – “a natural instinct” in times of deep economic turmoil at home – that will further hurt sales of exports.
He also discussed legislation pushed by labor that could make it easier to organize. A supporter of the “Employee Free Choice Act” decried by business, Obama said he believes there is no economic risk to workers organizing and making a living wage – especially if workers understand, as he says they seem to, that unreasonable demands on the part of labor would only serve to destroy jobs in the long run. He said he hoped to see in coming weeks forces on both sides talk about common ground which could be reached on the legislation.
Asked about whether bankruptcy should be an option for an American automaker, Obama reiterated his belief that a disorganized filing could be “disastrous” to the economy at large, hitting suppliers and others whose livelihoods depend on the industry. But he did not specifically rule out the idea of a managed bankruptcy – or, it should be said, additional aid for automakers from the government.
The key, he said, will be coming up with plans that recognize the realities of the car business, including realistic sale figures and capacity.