Many Republicans in Congress still don't get it. They proved it again last week as the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held hearings about the aftermath of the General Motors and Chrysler bailouts.
Republicans criticized the entire process. But they were especially critical of what they say is the preferential treatment the Obama administration's auto task force gave to union pensions at the expense of salaried pensions and insurance benefits -- especially at Delphi, GM's supplier and former subsidiary.
Losing benefits can be tragic, especially for retirees who had counted on their former employers to honor past commitments. It is one of the sad realities that when a company reorganizes under Chapter 11, most stakeholders lose.
If Republicans -- and Democrats -- want to see yet another side of economic damage caused by the bailouts, they should count the thousands of empty dealerships forced to close. As a result of so many dealers having their businesses taken away from them, tens of thousands of dealership employees were forced into unemployment lines, and millions -- perhaps billions -- of dollars of economic activity were removed from communities across the fruited plain.
The managed, quick-rinse bankruptcies were imperfect. Mistakes were made.
But without the bailouts, which were launched under President George W. Bush, a major chunk of the economy would have imploded. Free-market liquidation of GM and Chrysler also would have destroyed much of the automotive and defense industry supply base -- and probably Ford Motor Co., too.
The government acted properly as the lender of last resort. And even if the U.S. Treasury never recoups every last dollar loaned to or invested in GM and Chrysler, taxpayers are still far ahead because the social and economic costs of failure would have plagued the country for generations.