As the Obama administration and the 112th Congress get down to business, it is important that Washington not do anything to foul up the emerging automotive recovery.
To some that may sound small-minded and parochial, especially since the new Republican majority in the House seems determined to make a priority of repealing or dismantling last year's healthcare bill while investigating administration programs and cutting as much government spending as possible.
But the prime directive in Washington should be stimulating the economy and creating jobs.
The nearly $800 billion stimulus plan enacted two years ago hasn't delivered stunning results yet, though it did put a floor under the economic slide by showing that at least Washington was trying to do something.
Clearly, some government spending has worked. Though many Republicans still don't see it -- or won't admit it -- the bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler were important investments for the government when compared to the social and economic costs the government would have incurred if those automakers had failed.
Now both companies are on the road to recovery with the prospect of paying back most if not all of the government's $80 billion investment.
That's a significant part of the optimism. Stronger-than-expected light-vehicle sales in December plus an upbeat attitude with dozens of new vehicles at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit also are positive signs.
What the industry needs now from Washington is consistency. The bipartisan extension of the Bush tax cuts and unemployment benefits will help. There also must be regulatory realism in safety and fuel economy standards; a monetary policy that facilitates credit; a trade policy that encourages exports and deters currency manipulation by trading partners; a predictable, responsible energy policy; and noninterference in key operational issues, such as labor relations.
As much as anything else, Congress and the Obama administration need to let the industry do what it does best: build and sell great automobiles.
If our leaders inside the Beltway want to get the economy back on track, they would do well to remember that the auto industry remains a giant economic engine that helps drive prosperity in communities across America.
To paraphrase what GM President Charles Wilson told Congress more than a half century ago: What is good for the country is good for the auto industry. And vice versa.