President Obama may have "no interest" in running General Motors, as he averred Monday. But even if that's true, we are already discovering that he shares Washington with 535 Members of Congress, many of whom have other ideas.
The latest self-appointed car czar is Massachusetts's own Barney Frank, who intervened this week to save a GM distribution center in Norton, Mass. The warehouse, which employs some 90 people, was slated for closure by the end of the year under GM's restructuring plan. But Mr. Frank put in a call to GM CEO Fritz Henderson and secured a new lease on life for the facility.
Mr. Frank's spokesman, Harry Gural, says the Congressman discussed, among other things, "the facility's value to GM." We'd have thought that would be something that GM might have considered when it decided to close the Norton center, but then a call from one of the most powerful Members of Congress can certainly cause a ward of the state to reconsider what qualifies as "value." A CEO who refuses the offer can soon find himself testifying under oath before Congress, or answering questions from the Government Accountability Office about his expense account. To that point, Mr. Henderson spent Wednesday with Chrysler President Jim Press being castigated by the Senate Commerce Committee for their plans to close 3,400 car dealerships. Every Senator wants dealerships closed in someone else's state.
As Mr. Gural put it, Mr. Frank was "just doing what any other Congressman would do" in looking out for the interests of his constituents. And that's the problem with industrial policy and government control of American business. In Washington, every Member of Congress now thinks he's a czar who can call ol' Fritz and tell him how to make cars.