Friday, December 19, 2008

Bypassing the bomb throwers

Bush tinkered a bit on the brink, but did the right thing:
"In the midst of a financial crisis...allowing the U.S. auto industry to collapse is not a responsible course of action," Mr. Bush said.
The terms are more lenient than in the deal the Senate Republicans scotched:
The deal generally tracks key provisions of the bailout legislation that nearly passed Congress earlier this month. But it is relatively lenient in allowing the companies to show their viability. It defines viability as having a positive net present value -- a way of gauging the companies' worth, taking into account all their future obligations.

Notably, it provides significant flexibility to the companies in showing their viability. It sets out targets for the companies to hit in determining their financial health, such as reducing debt and current cash payments for future health care obligations.

But according to a White House fact sheet, the targets "would be non-binding in the sense that negotiations can deviate from the quantitative targets...providing that the [company] reports the reasons for these deviations and makes the business case to achieve long-term viability in spite of the deviations."

One potential move that could help the companies achieve some savings: the companies will be required to reach new agreements with major stakeholders, including dealers and suppliers, by March 31.

Determining viability apparently will be up to the Obama administration. The agreement designates a person to oversee the government's effort, although officials stopped short of referring to that as a "car czar." For the outgoing Bush administration, that person will be Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. President-elect Barack Obama will choose his own point person later.

Sometimes, kicking the can down the road is the only responsible course of action. Obama has said that he wants to bring all the auto industry stakeholders together to hammer out a deal. Bush has given him space to do it.

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