UPDATE: Looks like pretty much everyone else has had the same thought.
Well, this time it's the auto industry with hat in hand, asking for a gov't bailout. And Dems are inclined to give it to them.
Automakers already want an additional $50 billion in loans from Congress to help them survive tough economic conditions and pay for health care obligations for retirees. The companies are seeking the loans as part of an economic aid plan that is now more likely to come together early next year rather than in a postelection session of Congress this month.
In and of itself, I'm not sure it's a terrible idea. The auto industry is still a vast employer, in a region that does indeed need the help.
But no bailout should be a blank check. If you get the government's money, you should accept some conditions about how it gets used. The US auto industry needs a full overhaul, not just a new pile of money to light on fire, doing the same old thing.
We need to use the leverage of a bailout to green the auto industry: Higher mileage cars. A dedication to vastly expanding the fleet of plug-in hybrids. Electric cars. And so forth. If they want the money, they can accept the challenge.
This will be good business. The US auto companies have suffered, not just because of the circumstances of a weak economy. Rather, it's because they put out cars of consistently worse quality than the Japanese makers; they have resisted making fuel-efficient models, long banking on a return to SUV-profitability*; and they have refused to innovate, not treating themselves like the high-tech industry they should be. If they want to make money again, they ought to make better cars. In this crisis, I'm OK with the government helping them to do so.
And … politically, they should be brought on board a larger coalition dedicated to controlling the cost of health care. Not just shifting costs, but actually reforming the obscenely wasteful way we spend our health care dollars.
*Yes, gas has gotten cheaper. It will get more expensive if and when the global economy picks up again.