Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U. S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- The Second "Car Czar" Award

Posted on June 10, 2009

Mr. President, this is the “Car Czar” award for Wednesday, June 10, 2009. . . • It is a service to taxpayers • from America’s new automotive headquarters: • Washington DC. It’s the second in a series of “Car Czar” awards to be conferred upon Washington meddlers who distinguish themselves by making it harder for the auto companies your government owns to compete in the world marketplace. On Monday, I presented the very first “Car Czar” award to the Honorable Barney Frank of Massachusetts for interfering in the operation of General Motors. Congressman Frank, who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, intervened last week to save a GM distribution center in his Massachusetts congressional district. The warehouse, which employs some 90 people, was slated for closing under GM’s restructuring plan. But Mr. Frank put in a call to GM CEO Fritz Henderson and, lo and behold, the facility has a new lease on life according to the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Frank, of course, is chairman of the House committee that recently orchestrated paying $62 billion in taxpayer dollars to give the U.S. Treasury 60% ownership of General Motors and 8% ownership of Chrysler. Now, for this second “Car Czar” award, there are many deserving contenders. For example, this afternoon the Honorable Chris Dodd, Mr. Frank’s Senate counterpart, is chairing a Banking Committee hearing featuring two of the administration’s chief meddlers in Washington-owned car companies: Mr. Ron Bloom, a senior advisor on the auto industry at Treasury and Mr. Ed Montgomery, White House Director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers. And tomorrow, over in the House, the Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on salaries of workers in companies the government owns. Another obvious contender for the award is the administration’s new Chief-Price-Fixer for the cost of labor, Mr. Kenneth Feinberg who will review and approve how managers of car companies are paid. According to the New York Times article on June 8, Mr. Feinberg is likely not just to tell government-owned car companies and banks how much to pay people, it is likely “everyone else’s compensation will be monitored, too.” But there is time next week to honor all these worthy contenders. Today’s “Car Czar” award clearly should go to the Members of the Wisconsin and Michigan and Tennessee congressional delegations, each of whom met today in Washington with GM executives, imploring them to build small cars in our home states. In Tennessee’s case, of course, we were talking about the Saturn plant in Spring Hill, recently placed on standby. In other words, I am giving the “Car Czar” award today to, among others, myself -- the senior senator from Tennessee. Now, in my own defense, as Mr. Frank’s spokesman said when Mr. Frank was caught calling GM about the warehouse in Massachusetts - I was “just doing what any other Congressman would do” in looking out for the interests of his constituency. But that is precisely the reason for these “Car Czar” awards. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “...that’s the problem with industrial policy and government control of American business. In Washington, every Member of Congress now thinks he’s a czar who can call ol’ Fritz and tell him how to make cars.” But consider for a moment the implications of all 535 of us in Congress regularly participating in such incestuous behavior. It is one thing, as I did in 1985 as governor, to argue to General Motors to put the Saturn plant in Tennessee right next to the Nissan plant. That was an arm’s length transaction. It is quite another thing for me as U.S. Senator and a member of the government that owns 60% of the company, to urge GM executives to build cars in my state. I can pretend I am making my case on the merits: central location, right to work laws, four lane highways, hundreds of suppliers, low taxes, a successful Japanese competitor 40 miles away. But my incestuous relationship as owner taints the entire affair. So I will continue to confer “Car Czar” awards – seeking to end the incestuous nature of these meetings and time-wasting hearings – until Congress and the President enact my “Auto Stock for Every Taxpayer” legislation which would distribute the government’s stock in GM and Chrysler to the 120 million Americans who paid taxes on April 15. Such a stock distribution is the fastest way to get ownership of the auto companies out of the hands of meddling Washington politicians and back into the hands of Americans in the market place. It is also the fastest way to allow the car company managers to design, build and sell cars rather than scurry around Washington – under oath – answering questions and being instructed by their political owners how to build cars and trucks. It also may be the fastest way for congressmen to get themselves re-elected. According to the Nashville Tennessean, an AutoPacific survey reports that 81 of Americans polled agree “that the faster the government gets out of the automotive business, the better.” Now, here is an invitation for those who may be listening: if you know of a Washington “Car Czar” who deserves to be honored, please email me at CarAward@Alexander.Senate.gov, and I will give you full credit in my regular “Car Czar” reports here on the floor of the United States Senate. And after you write to me , I hope you will write or call your congressman and senators and remind them to enact the “Auto Stock for Every Taxpayer Act” just as soon as General Motors emerges from bankruptcy. All you need to say when you write or call are these eight magic words, “I paid for it. I should own it.”