Politics & Government

Central California GOP lawmakers oppose auto industry bailout

WASHINGTON -- Mariposa Republican George Radanovich supported a $700 billion economic bailout plan but now opposes a $15 billion package aiding the auto industry.

On Wednesday evening, Radanovich joined many other Republicans, including his Central Valley colleagues, in opposing the auto industry package. He says enough is enough.

"I think the line is long out the door of people who want a bailout," Radanovich said. "I don't think we should just be giving out money."

Radanovich isn't alone in his dissatisfaction. Bailout fatigue is now a bipartisan Capitol Hill malady, even among lawmakers ultimately supporting the auto package. The gloomy mood appears likely to shape all future congressional responses to the nation's ominous recession.

Central Valley constituents contacting congressional offices have been overwhelmingly opposed to the auto bailout. Valley auto dealers and some United Auto Workers activists have urged support, but the most vehement constituents have been opposed

"My constituents are frustrated, and I am frustrated," Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, acknowledged Wednesday morning. "I'm in a pretty bad mood right now for a bailout."

Radanovich was planning to join Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and a strong majority of other House Republicans in voting against the auto bill. The bill is supposed to keep Ford, General Motors and Chrysler afloat.

Nunes said he opposed the bill's creation of a "car czar" to oversee the industry, which he said needs to address underlying problems including high labor costs.

"This bailout is not a way out for the auto companies to become competitive," Nunes said.

Publicly, Cardoza and other Valley Democrats were still mulling their options as late as Wednesday afternoon. House Democratic leaders, though, knew they would be depending on their own party to pass the bill that Republicans unified against.

A member of the leadership-appointed House Rules Committee, Cardoza met through Tuesday night to approve a procedure allowing unusually quick House action Wednesday, even as he and his colleagues were scrambling to learn more about the bill itself.

Buckling to White House pressure, lawmakers stripped out a provision that would have blocked auto companies from suing California and other states interested in stricter tailpipe emission standards. Even so, California Democrats aligned themselves with the measure.

Democratic Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno cited the bill's "strict stipulations, oversight and protections for the American taxpayer" in voicing support, though he said a "longstanding and previous commitment" prevented him from making the Wednesday night vote.

The auto bill comes in the shadow of a $700 billion economic stabilization bill that became instantly characterized, to its political detriment, as a Wall Street bailout.

Radanovich drew notice for switching his position from "no" to "yes" on the $700 billion legislation.

The $700 billion bill failed the first time around, winning approval several days later only with the help of 63 Republicans. By Wednesday, relatively few Republicans outside of the major auto manufacturing states were supporting the latest bailout.

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson originally said he would use the $700 billion to buy troubled mortgage-related assets. Instead, the Treasury Department has since repeatedly changed course while some in Congress seem to have buyer's remorse. Cardoza, for instance, blasts Paulson for not devoting more resources to attack the underlying home foreclosure crisis.

"When I go back and talk to constituents, they are very, very unhappy with how the Bush administration has handled this," Cardoza said.