Now that the nation’s top public servant is wielding The Donald-like powers over chief executives of bailed-out companies, expectations are high that more heads will roll, and Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis is looking like the next contestant on a new economic prime-time drama: The Executive.
In retrospect, GM CEO Rick Wagoner’s demise was perhaps the most inevitable twist in the autos overhaul saga to date. The chance that he would present a radical plan to Obama this week, one dramatic enough to save his job, was slim at best. A more shocking result, one clearly less viable for Obama, would have been to make a few more threatening noises and hand out the cash that the company so desperately needs without demanding a very public pound of flesh – a head, in this case.
General Motors said it expects auditors to cast doubt on its ability to remain viable as it endures the worst market in decades. Posting a deeper-than-expected quarterly loss as revenue plunged by more than a third, the automaker said it could receive a “going concern” notice from its auditors.
When President Bush said on Thursday that his administration would not allow a “disorderly” bankruptcy or collapse of the U.S. automakers — leaving “orderly” bankruptcy on the table — it seems to have spurred on the negotiations between Detroit and the White House. General Motors and Chrysler are now close to securing emergency loans as part of a U.S. government aid package, according to sources familiar with the talks.
Each day that goes by without a Detroit bailout, the Dwindling Three get smaller. Chrysler is shutting down production for at least a month, and The Wall Street Journal reports that the company is again negotiating with GM about a merger. GM, which is denying it is talking again with Chrysler, slashed its Q1 production target by 60 percent and said it would temporarily idle about 30 percent of its North American assembly plant volume.
Senate Republicans who killed an auto industry bailout must have had a particularly nasty sense of deja vu. If they didn’t get on board, the economy would collapse. “For the hundreds of thousands of people whose jobs depend on this industry, this will not be joyous season,” bellowed Sen. Chris Dodd. It was up to the Republicans. To save Detroit, all they had to do was sign over a fraction of what they’d agreed to for Wall Street.