Who’s the lame duck here?

Congressional Democrats seem to want the the Big Three automakers, as a condition of getting government loans, to drop their legal opposition to efforts by California and 15 other states to enforce tougher tailpipe-emissions standards than those set by the federal government – something for which state officials as well as health, environmental and public interest groups have been fighting hard.

But the White House opposes this, and given House Democrats’ track record so far on caving to President Bush’s demands on this auto-industry bailout, it’ll be interesting to see whether this proposal survives.

What track record, you ask? Just check today’s Washington Post report:

Democrats bent to the will of the president on several key demands, most notably in agreeing that the emergency funding would be drawn from an existing loan program aimed at promoting fuel-efficient technologies.


Democrats had hoped to take the money from the Treasury’s $700 billion financial rescue program, but the White House objected. A breakthrough came Friday, when Pelosi dropped her opposition to tapping the loan program established by Congress this fall to help the automakers retool factories to produce more-fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Democratic proposal makes no provisions to replenish the loan fund, as Pelosi had hoped. But aides predicted that she would have little trouble adding the cash to a massive economic stimulus package President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to sign soon after he takes office in January.


Democrats flirted with the idea of naming a seven-member board to oversee the auto bailout but decided instead to have the president name an individual, as Bush had suggested. Frank said that the car czar is likely to be a government official who could get to work quickly, rather than an outsider, and that Obama could replace Bush’s appointee once he takes office.

So it seems the Democrats are hoping the Obama Administration will put this deal right after the fact, but given the Bush Administration’s ability to take a ball and run with it — often in the wrong direction — with little or no time left on the clock, that seems risky.

Sure, compromise is part of any government activity, but I see the Democrats giving a lot while the White House largely gets what it wants. If the deal does help California and the other states with the emissions litigation, that would seem like something in return; otherwise, what’s everyone getting for this $15 billion we’re about to shell out?

As San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris put it in a letter sent today to Congressional leaders (and distributed to the press by her campaign for state Attorney General in 2010), “(t)he automakers aren’t the only ones needing a bailout — the people breathing our air need a bailout from pollution.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.