Free Markets, Free People

Rick Wagoner

Pres. Obama Fires CEO Wagoner?

I‘ve been following this story with numbed amazement at just how surreal it all is. No matter how many times I repeat this sentence in my head — The President of the United States has just fired the CEO of General Motors — I can’t quite convince myself that it’s true.

That’s not to say that I’m unsympathetic to the argument that the U.S. government, as lender, has every right to demand such a resignation if its going to be funding the company. Indeed, that’s a fairly common demand whenever a funding source enters the picture at dire times. And rightly so.

But let’s not forget that Obama is not the U.S. government. And, in reality, he’s not the lender. Congress holds that dubious distinction by being the keeper of the public purse. You’d think that Obama would have understood that and, y’know, at least told them about his plans for Rick Wagoner’s head. You’d be wrong, though [HT: Allahpundit]:

President Obama didn’t want any advice from Congress on the decision to ask GM CEO Rick Wagoner to resign, according to Carl Levin (D), Michigan’s senior senator.

“He didn’t ask us about it, he informed us,” Levin told reporters in a conference call Monday afternoon. “The president said he’d already decided.”

Levin said he and three other lawmakers were informed of the decision in a phone call Obama made from the Oval Office. Obama told the members of Congress that Wagoner needed to resign so that the administration could show the public it was making an effort at a fresh start with helping the auto industry, according to Levin.

I guess Congress isn’t about to argue with The One over this. Maybe they’re just upset that they didn’t think of it first. Nevertheless, is there any doubt that Obama has absolutely zero authority or power to make this decision?

Aside from the stupefying hubris driving Obama’s actions here, what real good is going to come of Wagoner’s ouster? He’ll walk away with about $20 Million in severance, and GM will still have around $6 Billion in legacy costs to deal with each year, on top of pay for its unionized workforce. And even if all those costs were brought into line, what exactly is the new (Obama picked?) CEO going to recover from the fact that GM is losing about $1 Billion per month? The sad answer is “probably nothing.” GM will proceed into bankruptcy, just like it should have from the start of all this mess, and it will take down several billion taxpayer dollars with it.

But all that pales in comparison to the precedent now set, without even a peep of objection from Congress, that the President of the United States considers it within his purview to fire the heads of companies when he sees fit. Lovely.

Did I miss some fine print in the election last year about voting for King of the United States?

I’d Like To Hear The Left’s Comments About The Expansion Of “Executive Power” Now …

I‘m still in rather stunned disbelief about the White House ousting GM’s CEO.  

It’s not about how good a CEO he was or whether I agreed with his plan, his leadership style or his results.  It’s about the White House going so far as to ask him to step aside.  And, according to Obama’s own statement today, his “team” will “working closely with GM to produce a better business plan”.

Why, that sounds like something we’ve seen pass this way before and firmly rejected:

Italian Fascism often involved corporatism, a political system in which economy is collectively managed by employers, workers and state officials by formal mechanisms at national level.

Now I’m sure there are those out there who will argue that this is hardly a “formal mechanism”. But of course that’s simply not true. It is formal enough that a CEO is gone. Someone believes it is a mechanism of some formality for that to happen. And, if you think about it, it is just one more mechanism among many that have been put forward lately. Timothy Geithner’s plan to have the government take over financial institutions and hedge funds if the government deems them a threat to the economy’s well-being, for instance.

After all the caterwauling by the left about “unprecedented executive branch power expansion” during the Bush years, they’re rather quiet about these. The market, however, has cast it’s vote. Down about 300 at 4pm.

And this is all based in a false premise – something I’ve noticed that Obama uses quite effectively:

“We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish,” President Obama said at the White House.

Anyone – who would expect the domestic auto industry to ‘simply vanish’ if the companies were left to go the traditional route of bankruptcy?

Since when does bankruptcy equal “vanish”? Delta airlines seems to have survived it quite well, thank you very much. Their bankruptcy or the bankruptcy of other domestic airlines hasn’t seen the domestic airline industry “vanish”. Why would anyone believe it would happen if GM or Chrysler went bankrupt?

And that said, what did he suggest in his speech today?

The administration says a “surgical” structured bankruptcy may be the only way forward for GM and Chrysler, and President Obama held out that prospect Monday.

“I know that when people even hear the word ‘bankruptcy,’ it can be a bit unsettling, so let me explain what I mean,” he said. “What I am talking about is using our existing legal structure as a tool that, with the backing of the U.S. government, can make it easier for General Motors and Chrysler to quickly clear away old debts that are weighing them down so they can get back on their feet and onto a path to success; a tool that we can use, even as workers are staying on the job building cars that are being sold.”

Seems like that is precisely what all of us were telling them to do before they started throwing bucketfuls of imaginary dollars at the two companies, wasn’t it? And you can call it “surgical”, “structured” or whatever you want in an attempt to spin this as something other than fairly ordinary bankruptcy procedures, but that’s what they’re talking about.

One of the primary reasons they’ve attempted to keep these companies out of bankruptcy court can be described in three letters: UAW.

Their problem isn’t just “old debts” which need to be cleared away. Instead it is what is euphemistically called “legacy costs” which would go as well. And those “legacy costs” include the gold plated benefits the UAW now enjoys and doesn’t want to give up.

Administration officials on Sunday made it clear that an expedited and heavily supervised bankruptcy reorganization was still very much a possibility for both companies. One official, speaking of GM, compared such a proceeding with a “quick rinse” that could rid the company of much of its debt and contractual obligations.

The thing to watch out for is whether or not this “quick rinse” in a “heavily supervised bankruptcy reorganization” included “contractual obligations” to unions. If not, it will be a “quick rinse” of taxpayer’s wallets.

Among challenges the administration faced leading up to this weekend’s decision, foremost were the efforts to draw steep concessions from the United Auto Workers union and from the bondholders.

Attempts to solidify deals with the UAW and bondholders were slowed by disagreements by both parties over how exactly the other party needed to budge. The UAW, for instance, insists it already made health-care concessions in 2005 and 2007, and argues that the bondholders have never been asked to concede anything.

“I don’t see how the UAW will do anything until they see what the bondholders will give up,” one person involved in the negotiations on behalf of the UAW said Sunday.

Progress? Apparently both GM and Chrysler have been negotiating with both the bondholders and the UAW. But there’s not much to report there:

Both GM and Chrysler are negotiating with the UAW to accept a range of cost-cutting measures, including greatly reduced work forces, lower wages and a revamped health-care fund for retirees.

[...]

GM and representatives for its bondholders remained in talks over the weekend about a deal that would force these investors to turn in at least two-thirds of the value of the debt they hold in exchange for equity and new debt.

This arrangement would force GM to issue significantly more stock than what is currently being traded in the market. In addition, the government is being asked to guarantee the new debt with federal default insurance in order to entice bondholders who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in participating in the swap.

If GM can’t eventually forge a deal with the ad hoc committee representing the bondholders, the company may be forced to issue a debt-for-equity swap without the blessing of some of its biggest and most influential unsecured investors. This would heighten the possibility of the company eventually needing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Or said another way, they’ll end up doing what we said they should have done in December, less umpteen billions of taxpayer money poured down a rathole. Of course, had they reorganized under Chapter 11 as we all said they should, the Obama administration wouldn’t have been able to make this unprecedented power grab, would it?

~McQ