Southern senators who slammed on the brakes
There was a time when American politicians could not afford to be seen behind the wheel of an imported car. But the collapse of the $14bn bail-out underscores the new regional reality: the rise of foreign motor companies in the southern US has created a new breed of dogged Republican critic of GM, Ford, and Chrysler in the US Senate.
Bob Corker, Tennessee
This self-made construction executive arrived in Washington last year as the most junior of the 100 senators, but this has not stopped him wielding huge influence over the auto industry bailout.
During the US motor executives' tense appearances before the Senate banking committee, Corker's folksy manner belied his pointed condemnations of the big three's business decisions. He was hard enough on Chrysler chief Bob Nardelli to prompt hundreds of United Auto Workers union members to protest outside his office this week.
Corker's state is home to the US headquarters of Nissan as well as a planned Volkswagen factory, but Tennessee also hosts the GM plant that turned out the first fuel-efficient Saturn model in 1990.
When the Detroit rescue first appeared dead yesterday, Corker joined talks with carmakers and Democratic leaders in an attempt to sway his fellow Republicans. He won nearly all the concessions he sought from the UAW union, but his insistence on bringing wages in line with foreign competitors by next year helped kill the bailout.
Richard Shelby, Alabama
The senior Republican on the banking panel, Shelby is a longstanding critic of the "big three" whose home state has offered millions of dollars in tax incentives to lure foreign carmakers. Alabama now boasts factories for Mercedes-Benz, Honda, and Toyota, all of them dependent on the same American parts suppliers as GM, but none of them openly pressing for a bail-out for their competitors.
Shelby has opposed the $700bn Wall Street bail-out and this week's car industry aid from the start. He dubbed the $14bn Detroit package a "bridge loan to nowhere", blanketing TV with predictions of bankruptcy for one or more of the US motor companies. Shelby is up for re-election in less than two years, and the populist anger aroused by his criticism of American carmakers could mean a harder road.
Mitch McConnell, Kentucky
The Republican Senate leader was seen as dealing the first blow to the auto bailout with his assertion on Thursday that the car workers union had not given up enough to justify the $14bn loan.
Fevered lobbying from car dealers and parts makers in his home state, which has three US-owned car factories as well as a large Toyota plant, was not enough to persuade McConnell. "None of us want to see [GM, Ford, and Chrysler] go down, but very few of us had anything to do with the dilemma that they've created for themselves," he said yesterday.
Southern senators who opposed the automotive industry bail-out | Business | The Guardian