December 19, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 35

Forgiving GM debt another bah, humbug to taxpayers

In Our Opinion

Last week the U.S. taxpayer took a $10.5 billion hit to the wallet when the Treasury Department sold its final shares of General Motors stock and closed the books on its bailout of the troubled automaker. In the end, the government recouped $39 billion of the $49.5 billion it spent to keep GM from closing its doors in 2009.

Yes, the amount of money is likely small compared to the impact the loss of an estimated 1 million workers associated with GM might have had on the economy at the time, potentially turning the recession into a depression. Since 2009, GM has had 15 straight quarters of profits, accumulating more than $20 billion in net income on new products and rising sales while adding more than 3,000 employees, bringing total U.S. employment to 80,000.

What’s a little galling about last week’s outcome is that GM is sitting on $26.8 billion in cash – seemingly enough money to enable the company to repay taxpayers in full. When asked about this in a conference call last week, Treasury officials brushed these questions aside, noting the bulk of the bailout money was converted to GM stock.

Compared to economic realities in the trillions of dollars, $10.5 billion doesn’t seem like much, relative pocket change in the greater scheme of things. But the fact the company has money to pay this debt, but is being allowed to walk away, sends the signal once again that there are two different sets of rules in this country – one for those with lots of money and one for the rest of us.

If one of us in the huddled masses owed the government say, $4,950, and was only able to repay $3,900, would Uncle Sam forgive and write off the remaining $1,050? Maybe, but most likely not.

Chrysler repaid the U.S every single penny of what it took in the bailout. Ford didn’t take any money, and seems to be doing well.

And it’s not just with automaker bailouts that it seems there are different rules. When Congress and state legislatures make budget cuts it seems those cuts always fall on those who can least afford it, who have the least say in what happens, who obviously don’t have the money to pay lobbyists to argue and extend legislative perks on their behalf.

Elected officials throw money around like it grows on trees, or at the very least can easily be printed. Billions on defense systems, some of which aren’t wanted, let alone $700 billion to $800 billion on two recent wars, one of which the need for has proved to be dubious.

When accountability regarding spending habits of taxpayer-supported programs is brought up, elected representatives find ways to delay or shelve potential legislation. When closing corporate tax loopholes is suggested, excuses are made and claims of damaging our economy are raised.

It’s frustrating. GM gets a $10.5 billion forgiveness of money it owes, while Cheney Outreach struggles with receiving food donations and families stand in line for gifts at Spokane’s Christmas Bureau. All the while Congress sits back and enjoys their lucrative pay and benefits package.

Somehow, that all seems backwards.

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