The logic in Washington is ineluctable. If government provides money, then it needs to impose regulations. If the government takes ownership, then it must provide management.
Bail out the banks. Set bankers’ salaries. Bail out the insurers. Decide on corporate bonuses.
And if the government takes over the automakers, then it should run the automakers. That, of course, means deciding who can be dealers.
Now that the Obama administration has spent billions of dollars on the bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler, Congress is considering making its first major management decision at the automakers.
Under legislation that has rapidly gained support, GM and Chrysler would have to reinstate more than 2,000 dealerships that the companies had slated for closure.
The automakers say the ranks of their dealers must be thinned in order to match the fallen demand for cars. But some of the rejected dealers and their Capitol Hill supporters argue that the process of selecting dealerships for closure was arbitrary and went too far.
Since federal money has been used to sustain the automakers, they say Congress has an obligation to intervene.
At a gathering of dozens of dealers who came to Capitol Hill yesterday to lobby their representatives, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and several other congressmen spoke in support of the dealers. More than 240 House members have signed onto the bill, supporters said.
“We are going to stand with them for as long as it takes,” Hoyer told an approving crowd.
What is next? Congress deciding the prices that should be charged for autos? The accessories to be offered? The colors cars should be painted?
I have no idea who should or should not be an auto dealer. But I do know that it is a decision which should not be made in Washington, D.C.