George Bush’s Final Christmas Present

The President’s lifeline to the auto industry includes the provision Senate Republicans were insisting on last week, which scuttled the deal — cuts in UAW wages and benefits to make them comparable with wages and benefits in non-union automakers’ plants (all owned by foreign automakers, all mostly in the South). Last week, Bush lobbied against this provision. Now he’s adopted it, without any legislation at all.

What’s really going on? Bush doesn’t want messy bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler, potentially threatening more than a million jobs, to tarnish his last weeks in office. So he’s giving the automakers what they need to tide them over, and kicking the can to the Obama administration. But nor does he want to leave office slapping down Senate Republicans, so he’s giving them what they demanded, too.

How to square the circle? Read the fine print: The automakers don’t really have to bring wages and benefits down in order to get the money. That requirement can be “modified” in negotiations with the UAW. So everyone gets a Christmas present, and W. leaves town before the bill arrives.

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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