Today's Papers

Come on and Save Me

The Los Angeles Timesand Washington Postlead with the chief executives of Detroit’s Big Three begging lawmakers for taxpayer-funded aid to prevent a possible collapse. But senators were less than receptive to their plight, and it looks increasingly unlikely that the automakers will get a bailout from Washington any time soon. Even senators who are generally supportive of the industry weren’t shy about criticizing the companies. “Their discomfort in coming to the Congress with hat in hand is only exceeded by the fact that they are seeking treatment for wounds that are to a large extent self-inflicted,” Sen. Christoper Dodd said. “No one can say they didn’t see this coming.”

The New York Timesleads with news that Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens lost his re-election bid to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. It was certainly close, but Begich leads with more than 3,700 votes with approximately 2,500 still outstanding, which is beyond the margin of victory that would allow Stevens to call for a state-funded recount. The victory gives Democrats 58 seats in the Senate, with two races still undecided. The Wall Street Journal leads with the lashing that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and, to a lesser extent, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, received at a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee. Paulson said he wants to keep the rest of the bailout money for emergencies and allow the Obama administration to decide how best to use the funds. But lawmakers criticized Paulson for his unwillingness to devote some of the bailout money to aid homeowners at risk of foreclosure. USA Todayleads with AAA’s annual Thanksgiving survey that found that while many Americans are changing their holiday travel plans, they’re still, for the most part, making the trips. The total number of people who plan to travel for Thanksgiving is a bit less than last year’s record, which marks the first drop since 2002.

The leaders of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler blamed the current downturn in the global economy for much of their woes and warned lawmakers that if one of the companies were to collapse, it would have catastrophic consequences for the country. The leaders of GM and Chrysler both said that they’re at risk of running out of money soon without more federal assistance. While senators, for the most part, said they recognize the industry’s importance, they were also quick to emphasize that they’re not convinced giving the companies another $25 billion would be enough to keep the companies out of trouble for very long. When the executives were asked whether they’d be willing to cut their own salaries to $1 a year, they all said yes. Still, that was hardly enough to satisfy skeptical lawmakers who heaped criticism on the Big Three.

In the WP’s op-ed page, George Will says it’s ludicrous to think that the automakers’ problems are tied to the current financial crisis. GM has already failed; “the question is what to do about that,” and the answer is to do “nothing that will delay bankrupt companies from filing for bankruptcy protection.” The problem is, as the NYT notes in its business pages, bankruptcy protection isn’t what it used to be. Whereas bankruptcy protection “always offered a glimmer of hope” that a company could reorganize and continue operating, that is increasingly unrealistic in the current climate. Companies are now avoiding bankruptcy protection like the plague because they know that bankruptcy equals liquidation if they can’t get credit, and, needless to say, loans are pretty hard to come by these days. One possible compromise would be for the government to offer loans to a bankrupt company, which would benefit taxpayers since they would be the first to be repaid.

That is precisely the solution that Mitt Romney advocates in an op-ed piece in the NYT. Romney says that while the “American auto industry is vital to our national interest,” bailing out the Big Three would “virtually guarantee” their demise. Instead, a “managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs.” The government should guarantee financing for the bankrupt companies and make sure that consumers know their warranties aren’t at risk. When Republican Sen. Bob Corker brought up the idea of bankruptcy with government backing, GM’s chairman dismissed it as “pure fantasy,” noting that such an action “would ripple across this economy like a tsunami we haven’t seen. It seems to me like a huge roll of the dice.”

Begich’s victory not only effectively ends the career of the longest-serving Republican senator but also brings Democrats one step closer to reaching the 60 seats necessary to obtain a filibuster-proof majority. Yesterday, Democratic lawmakers kept the dream of reaching that magic number alive by overwhelmingly voting to allow Sen. Joseph Lieberman to keep his committee chairmanship. “This was done in a spirit of reconciliation,” Lieberman said.

The NYT, LAT, and WP all front word that Eric Holder currently appears to be the top choice to become the next U.S. attorney general, although no final decision has been made. Obama’s advisers continue the vetting process but plan to officially offer him the job if he gets enough support from Republican lawmakers. Holder, a senior official at the Justice Department under President Clinton, would be the first African-American attorney general. The biggest sticking point in his nomination is that Republicans are certain to bring up that as deputy attorney general he failed to oppose Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. But few think that will prevent his confirmation.

The WSJ fronts word that former President Bill Clinton is prepared to make concessions on his activities in order to help his wife get the position of secretary of state in Obama’s administration. Not only would he stop being involved in his foundation’s daily activities, the former president has also said he would be willing to disclose the names of all new donors and seek clearance from both White House counsel and the State Department’s ethics chief before accepting any money or paid speaking engagements. In addition, he has agreed to publicly disclose “major” past contributors, although no one has been able to define what “major” means. 

Despite all these concessions, it’s still not clear that the former first lady even wants the job, note the WSJ and NYT. Although she was apparently enthusiastic about the prospect when Obama first brought it up, she’s now wondering whether she wouldn’t rather stay in the Senate. She’s apparently reluctant to give up the independence that comes with being a senator in order to become a subordinate to a former rival. Of course, this could all be part of a bargaining tactic. But the NYT also notes that if she becomes secretary of state, it would be much more difficult for her to get rid of the $7.6 million debt that she has left over from her presidential campaign.

Whether she wants it or not, there are plenty of opinions on whether she should get the job. The NYT’s Thomas Friedman says that too much attention has been paid to the former president’s role and activities when the really important question is what kind of relationship Clinton would have with Obama. Having the full backing of the president “is the most important requirement for a secretary of state to be effective,” notes Friedman, who admits that he’s not sure whether Obama and Clinton can have that kind of relationship with everything that went on between them during the primaries. For his part, the WP’s David Broder is certainly more direct and says that appointing Clinton “would be a mistake.” Although she’s qualified, the position wouldn’t be “the best use of her talents” and isn’t what Obama needs. Plus, carrying her husband’s baggage would make the job that much more difficult. “If Clinton can be of service to Obama in Foggy Bottom, she can be of even greater value as an ally on Capitol Hill,” writes Broder. Meanwhile, the NYT’s Maureen Dowd, for some reason, finds it relevant to ask David Geffen what he thinks. Yes, Geffen made a bit of a splash when he badmouthed the Clintons in the heat of the primary battle, and no one doubts his fundraising prowess, but does anyone care what he thinks? In case you do, Geffen likes the idea of the former first lady running the State Department. Clinton and Obama must be breathing a huge sigh of relief.