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With election ahead, politics likely to enter GM decisions

McClatchy Newspapers [1]
Monday,  June 1,  2009

The federal government, in a nearly unprecedented move, now has a stake in running General Motors, and that means politics is likely to creep into a lot of big decisions, despite President Barack Obama’s vow that Washington won’t get heavily involved.

But Congress – with most members facing re-election next year – has veto power over almost any decision, either by pressuring policymakers at hearings or by pushing legislation. Members have shown in recent months they’re willing to do both.

“They definitely will use the bully pulpit to raise questions,” said Ben Kleinerman, an assistant professor of constitutional democracy at Michigan State University, though because the process is more deliberate and complicated, the legislative path could prove more difficult.

Even now, that pulpit is moving into place. On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing featuring the heads of GM and Chrysler, as well as car dealers from the home states of the panel’s two leading members. The dealers are expected to urge lawmakers to provide government help to dispose of thousands of unsold cars and trucks.

That hearing is only the opening salvo because dealers are just one of the powerful players in this complex political drama.