Saving General Motors from bankruptcy was among President Obama’s most frequently cited achievements when he ran for re-election last year. Democrats everywhere touted the company’s revival as proof of the 2009 bailout’s wisdom. That was then. Now, Obama has quietly released the auto manufacturer from a bailout requirement that it increase its production in the U.S. Instead, GM is spending billions of dollars building up its production capacity in … China.
This is happening despite the fact that the Treasury Department has to date recovered just $36 billion of its original $51 billion loan to GM. By most analysts’ predictions, American taxpayers will be out approximately $10 billion when the remaining stock is sold off. Which is a long way of saying that it now appears that taxpayers paid $10 billion to make it easier for GM to accelerate its foreign outsourcing and send more manufacturing jobs to China.
Here’s what happened: In exchange for the bailout in 2009, GM promised to meet certain domestic car production targets over the next four years. The obvious point of this stipulation was to ensure that GM jobs remained here at home and weren’t shipped overseas. The production targets started at 1.8 million in 2010 and were supposed to rise to 2.26 million by 2014. GM repeatedly missed the targets, beginning with an 81,000-unit shortfall the first year. Production increased thereafter, but never quite enough to meet the targets. Last year, GM fell about 13,000 cars short of its 2 million target.
How did it do this year? GM refuses to say. But in February, GM announced in its annual report to shareholders that Treasury had agreed to “irrevocably waive certain of its rights” regarding the federal loan. These included “certain manufacturing volume requirements.” Guess what happened next? GM announced in June that it would stop releasing its North American production figures altogether. Its spokesman tried to justify this move with Orwellian doublespeak about how providing more information would result in “an incomplete data set to look at.”
The same month, GM announced it would boost its output from its China plants by 70 percent. It is not just selling Chinese-made cars to the Chinese, either. GM is nearly doubling its export production capacity there from 77,000 units to 130,000. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to see what is really going on. GM cannot make the domestic production targets and still turn a profit. It wants to be spared the embarrassment of having everyone know that. Obama, who is in this as deep as anyone can be, doesn’t want the embarrassment, either. So both buried the news.
It is yet more proof that Mitt Romney was right in the 2012 presidential campaign: GM should have gone through a traditional bankruptcy instead of the politicized farce of a taxpayer-funded bailout and government managed “bankruptcy.” The TARP funds involved could have instead been used to provide liquidity for a managed sale to a private buyer that minimized the opportunities for political interference in the new GM’s operations.