FixCam Week in Preview: The Politics of a Bailout
The ongoing crisis in the American auto industry and the broader struggles of the U.S. economy take center stage again this week as the triumvirate of President George W. Bush, President-elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats continues to seek short-term and long-term solutions to a problem that doesn't look like it's getting better any time soon.
It appears as though Bush and Democrats on Capitol Hill have essentially agreed to kick the can down the road to Obama as it relates to the auto industry with a $15 billion emergency loan that will keep the so-called "Big Three" carmakers afloat for the near-term. The loan, however, will do little to solve the larger structural problems that have driven GM, Ford and Chrysler to such dire straits.
Why won't Bush and congressional lawmakers do more? Simple. Bailouts (or "rescue plans") make for bad politics.
Look back at the massive $700 billion bailout package for Wall Street that Congress passed in October. Although a majority of economists seem to agree that it was an absolutely necessary move to avoid financial Armageddon, polling showed that large majorities of voters opposed it, believing that it was rewarding irresponsible behavior.
Political strategists traced much of Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss' (R) electoral vulnerability to his vote for the bailout, and several savvy operatives around John McCain have suggested that he might have been better off politically if he has opposed the bailout.
Recent polling regarding the idea of an auto industry bailout produces similar results. In a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll in the field Dec. 1 and 2, just 36 percent supported the idea of providing money to the automakers to keep them from possible bankruptcy while 61 percent opposed that idea. An ABC poll in late November showed 35 percent supportive of a bailout/rescue plan for the auto industry and 57 percent opposed.
Politicians -- no matter who they are or what they say -- know how to read polls, especially when the results are as stark as these. It's why small steps will stand in for big solutions right now and one of the many reasons why Obama faces such a daunting task when he assumes the presidency on Jan. 20.
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