PHILIP NUSSEL

Suddenly, GOP filled with regulatory watchdogs

Philip Nussel is managing editor of autonews.com.Philip Nussel is managing editor of autonews.com.
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Republicans for decades have been the nation's self-appointed guardians against big government. They complain about red tape, taxation and government interference in the private sector. They attack federal regulatory bureaucracies with a passion.

Except when it involves regulating a company partially owned by the government during an election year in which there is a Democrat in the White House.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is the latest to champion his party's new emphasis on supporting big-government regulation.

At a hearing today, he demanded answers from GM CEO Dan Akerson and NHTSA Administrator David Strickland about NHTSA's investigation into Chevy Volts that caught fire several days after crash testing.

"We are disappointed," Issa said. "NHTSA could have been a much better job both in transparency and speed. When you have a new vehicle, it's better to take a pause."

One must now wonder what other regulatory agencies Issa will ask to be more transparent and speedy so they can regulate private businesses better. Perhaps he'll demand more efficient regulation of banking, oil drilling, food, drugs -- you name it.

The fact is, in the eyes of Issa and other Republicans, GM might as well be part of President Obama's re-election campaign. What a great way to go after Obama than to throw dirt on the cars made by a company partially owned by the U.S. Treasury because of a government bailout?

Who cares if the Volt is essentially safer than any gasoline-powered car, when there is always the risk of a fire immediately after an accident?

But it's an election year. Make no mistake: the Democrats do the same kinds of maneuvers when a Republican president occupies the Oval Office.

Still, let's remember a couple things.

First, the GM bailout was initiated by Republican President George W. Bush in 2008. Without Bush's loans to GM, there would not have been a GM for Obama to bail out the following year.

Second, the controversy surrounding the Volt will cost American jobs. GM will now have to lower production plans in Detroit because, presumably, the Volt isn't going to sell as well as expected.

But it's an election year. With Obama happily taking victory laps for the auto bailout and with Republicans eagerly portraying the bailout as a socialistic wrong, who really cares if some autoworkers won't get hired in Detroit this year?

You can reach Philip Nussel at pnussel@crain.com.

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