Even by the standards of Washington, spending about $31 billion worth of taxpayer dollars to get yourself re-elected is a pretty audacious act. Yet that is exactly what President Obama did with the GM bailout.
"Osama bin Laden is dead and GM is alive" was his campaign's mantra. And lest anyone think that using TARP funds to keep the auto company alive was an act of charity, Obama said as recently as October: "We got back every dime."
Now that the election is over, he doesn't need to keep up that pretense any more. This week, the Treasury Department announced it would sell half of the government's stake in GM back to the company. The rest of the shares will be sold off over the next year or so.
If the Treasury is able to sell the rest of the taxpayers' GM shares at the same price that it bought them from GM, then the Obama administration will have recouped just $34 billion of the $51 billion the federal government spent on the car company. That's a $17 billion loss.
Throw in the $14 billion the federal government lost bailing out Ally Financial, formerly known as GMAC (GM's technically independent financing arm), and Obama's total GM losses reach about $31 billion.
What did this get in return? Well, it didn't get us a resurgent company, no matter what Obama campaign press releases say. As recently as 2006, GM had almost a quarter -- 24 percent -- of the domestic auto market. That has now fallen to about 16 percent, down from 18 percent a year ago and just barely above Ford and Toyota. At this rate, Obama could round out his second term by giving it another bailout.
It didn't turn around America's manufacturing sector either. Since July of this year, the U.S. economy has lost, not gained, 26,000 manufacturing jobs.
No, what the bailout did was save Obama's allies in the United Auto Workers, whose "sacrifices" amounted to putting all of the pain on the company's new hires while protecting existing employees from losing the pay and benefits that helped make the company uncompetitive in the first place. People who actually invested money in the company took a bath. Just like the taxpayers now.
That and the bailout gave Obama a persuasive talking point for voters in Rust Belt states Ohio and Pennsylvania.
But it did cost taxpayers some dimes. About 310 billion of them, in fact.