Republicans hand Bush a goodbye defeat on auto bailout
Republicans in Congress effectively said good riddance to President George W. Bush this week, handing their unpopular leader a last big defeat by rejecting a $14 billion auto industry bailout the White House negotiated with Democrats.
“No one cares what the White House thinks,” scoffed a senior Republican leadership aide.
With Democrat Barack Obama set to replace Bush as president on Jan. 20, the aide said: “There’s frustration among Republicans that Bush doesn’t have a feel for our positions, and relief that he’s leaving.”
With Bush at the head of the party the past eight years, the Republicans’ reputation for fiscal conservatism has been shredded by record federal deficits.
Republicans, seeking to restore that reputation, say market forces, not U.S. taxpayers, should decide the fate of the auto industry. They charge the bailout would be no more than a downpayment on failure.
In addition, they argue automakers would be better off to reorganize under bankruptcy protection.
“I’m not surprised Republicans wouldn’t listen to Bush,” a Democratic aide said. “This really shows how weak the president is.”
“Republicans figured this was about their political skins and their political message,” the aide added. “But I don’t think they win anything out of this. They just put on a political show with people’s lives at stake.”
Bush further upset Republicans Friday when he yielded to mostly Democratic demands and signaled he was willing to provide aid to automakers through the $700 billion bailout he pushed through Congress to help Wall Street.
That rescue package generated plenty of voter backlash in the Nov. 4 election, particularly against Republicans.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who had a tougher time winning re-election than initially anticipated, seemed among those happy to see Bush go.
“Our members, in one way, are kind of relieved by the departure of an administration that became unpopular and made it very difficult for us to compete,” McConnell said shortly after the election.
The Republicans’ plight, it seems, is not so very different from that of the automakers’: An unpopular model has made it difficult for them to compete.
Photo credit: Top: Reuters/Larry Downing (Bush at Texas A&M commencement ceremony Dec. 12) ; Bottom: Reuters/Rebecca Cook (United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger, center, criticizes Republican handling of auto bailout negotiations during news conference in Detroit Dec. 12)