Washington lawmakers, abuzz with regulatory reform, are having a hard time keeping their mitts off of General Motors Co., largely owned by taxpayers.
Despite assertions from the White House that President Barack Obama's administration had no interest in running major U.S. companies bailed out by billions of taxpayer dollars, various lawmakers on Capitol Hill are giving their constituents justification for doing just that, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
GM emerged from bankruptcy this summer 60 percent owned by the federal government. Since then, lawmakers have intervened with the company on behalf of individual dealerships, union truck drivers and a supplier of palladium, which goes into catalytic converters, the Journal said.
Several lawmakers, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., are pushing to reverse a bankruptcy court decision that allowed GM to duck obligations to an environment program that removes mercury from cars on their way to the junk yard, the Journal reported.
The lawmaker's impulse to nag GM has gotten so pervasive that Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., have proposed setting up an independent trust to hold shares of companies now in the government's possession.
"What I like about this is that it would move us away from meddling in these companies," Corker said.
Lawmakers' sentiment might best be summed up by the chief executive officer of Stillwater Mining Co. in Montana, the palladium supplier with a contract nullified by GM's bankruptcy proceeding.
With lawmakers going to bat for Stillwater, "I think that business should stand on its own," CEO Frank McAllister said.
However, like many others, McAllister said the rules changed when "GM went to the public trough."
With the call to save jobs for constituents, lawmakers have lobbied to save factories in their districts and, in one case, introduced a dealership owner to GM's Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson at a hearing in Washington.
While GM has said it would cut 1,400 dealerships to streamline its retail operations, the company has reversed its call on closing 70, the Journal said.
A GM spokesman said "being responsive to members of Congress while moving forward on our business plan is the best way to repay the nation's support."
Is that politeness or real gratitude? Many of the nation's banks returned their bailout funds as quickly as possible to escape restrictions, including limits on executive paychecks.
The heart of the issue is who should run the companies that need to return to making a profit to repay the government billions?
Sun Bankcorp Inc. Chief Executive Officer Thomas Geisel said "lawmakers let emotions and ego get in the way of making good business decisions" but not everyone agrees with that.
"I was elected to represent the interests of Montana, not General Motors, which is something that GM should have considered before letting the federal government assume control of their company," Rep. Rehberg, R-Mont., has said.
Global markets were in a widespread retreat Thursday, the Nikkei 225 in Japan lost 1.83 percent, while the Shanghai composite in China fell 2.34 percent. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong fell 2.28 percent, while the Sensex index in India lost 1.42 percent.
The S&P/ASX index in Australia lost 2.36 percent.
In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 in Britain lost 0.47 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany lost 0.32 percent. The CAC 40 in France rose 0.39 percent, while the pan-European DJ Stoxx 50 index fell 0.31 percent.