Don't Sweat the Details?

A mostly political weblog.
Dec. 22 2008 3:30 AM

Don't Sweat the Details?

Where's the Quirk?  The seemingly infallible Nate Silver counts cloture votes on 'card check ,' with a particular focus on Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln:

Arkansas is not the only state with a Democratic senator and low union membership. Pretty much the entirety of the South is in the same boat, with the important exception of Louisiana. But, while there aren't many union members in Virginia, North Carolina or Florida -- nor in some states like New Mexico outside of the South -- Barack Obama is quite popular in all of those areas, which he is not in Arkansas. Arkansas and really Arkansas alone presents the unique combination of Obama being unpopular and the union movement being virtually nonexistent, and among the two Democratic senators in Arkansas, Lincoln is up for re-election in 2010, whereas Mark Pryor is not. It's not a coincidence that she's hemming and hawing on EFCA. [E.A.]

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Except that Pryor is hemming and hawing too . ... P.S.: Does this mean we can abandon the grail-like quest to find an instance where Silver was wrong? Not quite. But it does suggest the flaw in his mode of thinking--which seems to be to assume that pols respond in predictable ways to predictable factors (just as voters vote in predictable ways according to demographic factors). Isn't there room for persuasion and quirkiness? ... True, when I made this criticism before, during the Dem primaries, Silver turned out to be right (everyone did behave predictably). But the night is young! Someone will behave unpredictably at some point. ...  P.P.S.: In this case, the quirky factor Silver would be overlooking is the inherent non-appeal of the specific "card check" idea--i.e. it's hard for pols to publicly defend eliminating the secret ballot, even if Obama swept their states. ... 10:32 A.M.

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The Devil is In the Details, But Do the Details Matter? Steven Pearlstein's  confident analysis of the auto bailout makes me think its critics, myself included --may have overly depressed ourselves by focusing on the actual details of the agreement--like the "non-binding" nature of the concessions required of the U.A.W.. Here's the more sanguine syllogism:

1) There's no way GM** and maybe even Ford can survive in the long run without either a) more bailouts or b) major sacrifices from workers, dealers, creditors, shareholders. That includes concessions on wages and work rules from the U.A.W. that would make GM factories competitive with foreign transplants in the U.S. (though not, I assume, with U.S. car factories in Mexico and elsewhere). The $9.4 billion the taxpayers have just loaned GM will be gone soon enough--within months. Then what will the company do?

2) There's no political appetite for bailing carmakers out again in March--i.e. for lending much more money to the automakers beyond the $17.4 billion already designated for both GM and Chrysler. The current bailout is unpopular enough. Critics say it won't work, that the car companies will just come back for more government money in a few months. When the companies prove the critics right, do you think Obama and the Dems, even with big majorities, are going to bail them out again ? Maybe make a multi-billion dollar Federal subsidy permanent--a sort of underground conveyor belt from the Treasury to Detroit? I don't think so. GM and the UAW may be shocked that the public has not rallied to their side, but that seems to be the case . Obama has certainly given no signals that he's willing to permanently subsidize uncompetitive car companies (as opposed to not letting them go bankrupt at a time when that would have semi-cataclysmic ripple effects).

3) Therefore the workers, dealers, creditors and shareholders will have to make major sacrifices . It doesn't matter whether those sacrifices are spelled out in the legislation. It doesn't matter if they are vague-but-binding agreements or mere "targets." It doesn't matter if Barney Frank and Congressional Democrats keep the targets in or take them out at the urging of the UAW. The Congress and the President don't have to demand the taxpayer's $17 billion back (the sanction Bush boasts of). They can let GM and Chrysler keep the $17 billion. But as long as they don't offer up more billions, the manufacturers (and the UAW) will have to make the necessary changes, whether or not they technically go bankrupt.

Everything else is kabuki.

I can't think of anything major wrong with this logic. It's possible that the companies and the union are somehow hoping that if the economy quickly revives and SUVs start selling they can rebound without much pain and maybe make it to 2011 when the two-tier wage structure they've negotiated will begin to kick in. If that happens, it happens. But if it doesn't, I still don't see the Democrats coming across with a second huge tranche of cash. Maybe I am missing something.

**--I'm focusing on GM because I doubt there's any way Chrysler can survive as an independent company, period. ...

Update: Jim Geraghty dissents on the crucial point #2 --

The Obama Administration will  - most likely — look at whatever restructuring effort the Big Three have made and wag their finger at slow progress, but declare that due to the economic circumstances, allowing the automakers to collapse is "not an option," and then open the checkbook again. Lather, rinse, repeat. The successful reform of the auto industry will always remain six months over the horizon.

Well, one of us is wrong. ... P.S.:  Sounds like Iraq, circa 2006. The Friedman Unit returns. ... 1:50 A.M.

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You know it's a slow news day when MSN is headlining the feature " Can you name the noodle ?"  12:33 A.M.

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