Auto dealers: special interests or special friends?
I have no opinion on the proposal by Sen. Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, to give auto dealers a pass on new consumer protection provisions in a major financial regulatory bill. I am not surprised that a Republican would go to bat for this quintessential business lobby, especially given its presence in every congressional district in America.
I am struck, though, by how quickly the dealers have morphed, in Democratic rhetoric.
Today, the president labels the dealers "special interests," out to gouge "countless families – particularly military families" on their car loans with the help of a "special carve-out" won by their lobbyists.
But wasn't it only a couple of months ago that the House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, and his able whip, Rep. Chris van Hollen of the same state, were themselves going to bat for the dealers, trying to get them a special exemption from the sacrifices that the General Motors and Chrysler bankruptcies imposed on other stakeholders, such as unions and bondholders? Why yes, yes it was.
Back then, Democrats spoke of the car dealers as profitable pillars of their communities, the sponsors of Little Leagues and creators of jobs. Van Hollen gave a floor speech hailing the dealers'
aggressive lobbying "truly historic grassroots effort," notwithstanding the fact that the resulting legislation probably added hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of the taxpayer bailout of GM and Chrysler. The White House stood by and did nothing -- thus undercutting the position previously taken by the Treasury Department's own auto task force.
Looks to me like the auto dealers are playing the two parties like so many violins.
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