Came across an interesting article by then-Sen. Barack Obama on how to solve the auto company's ills, written for the American Prospect back in 2006.
Not like it took too big of a leap to see that industry is in trouble, but this was prior to starting his presidential run, so it's instructuve to see what our next President was thinking well before the industry's current cash crisis had the Big Three scrapping with failing banks for bailout dollars.
Obama, a booster of flex fuels, starts off by quoting Henry Ford:
"There's enough alcohol in one year's yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years."
And goes on to link health care and hybrids:
Across the globe, other countries and their auto industries are realizing the enormous potential of a post-oil economy. Toyota is doubling production of the popular hybrid Prius, and it's readying a new production plant in China. Waiting lists for these foreign hybrids in our own country are months long, but U.S. automakers lag far behind. . .Right now, one of the biggest costs facing auto manufacturers is health care. Last year, retiree health care alone cost the Big 3 automakers nearly $6.7 billion. No wonder they're having trouble finding the money to invest in fuel-efficient cars.
I believe we should make a deal with the auto companies to solve this problem. Legislation I've introduced called "Health Care for Hybrids" would allow the federal government to pick up part of the tab for the automakers' retiree health-care costs. In exchange, the companies would use some of that savings to build and invest in more fuel-efficient cars.
More broadly, we should then ensure that, within a decade, every new car sold in America can run on flexible fuel. We can advance this goal by offering manufacturers a $100 tax credit for every flexible-fuel tank they install before the decade is up.
I find it telling that Obama's opinion on the auto industry tracks fairly closely with that of R. James Woolsey, ex-CIA chief (and incidentally, a McCain supporter), who recently spoke here at the Cleveland City Club.
The best line from that speech came when Woolsey asked the crowd if anyone knew who was actually behind the funding that radical, anti-Western terrorists receive. He had this to say (and I'm paraphrasing):
"The next time you're at a filling station, before you get out of the car, tip the rearview mirror down a bit and look into your own eyes -- you're looking at the sponsor of terror."
(A podcast of Woolsey's Oct. 24 speech is available here at the City Club web site -- it's a remarkably compelling argument.)