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Several weeks ago MissLaura wrote a story about how the actions of the United Auto Workers and the Big Three (Ford, GM, Daimler-Chrysler) caused Congress to not raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards in 1990, which have remained stagnant ever since-although the Senate succesfully added CAFE increases to the energy bill they passed, it'll be tough to get the House to support the provision, and if Bush vetoes it, Congress won't be able to override.

If this fails, Congress ought to pass Senator Obama's Healthcare for Hybrids Act, which has won approval from environmentalists, the United Auto Workers and the Big Three.

Obama the Uniter
Obama's strongest skill is his uncanny ability to take groups and people with disparate and even conflicting interests, and unite them to get things done to help Illinois, the United States, and even the world as a whole.

In the Illinois legislature, Obama was extraordinarily successful at getting Republicans and Democrats to work together to do all sorts of great things, from instituting the earned income tax credit to combating racial profiling to videotaping police interrogations (which, thanks to Obama, went from being controversial to passing unanimously) to a Gift Ban Act to protecting overtime.

In fact, he was so successful that even Republican state Senator Kirk Dillard, who had previously called him "soft on crime and borderline socialist on health care," thought so much of him that to the chagrin of the Illinois Republican Committee, he agreed to appear in a campaign commercial for him (currently playing in Iowa),

You can watch this commercial here.

In the United States Senate, he has been just as skilled.

He worked with Senator Dick Lugar (although he's a conservative, these days he's among the 15 best Republicans in the Senate) stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in a non-violent manner.

More impressively, he's managed to work with the extremely odious far-right conservative Senator Tom Coburn (although he is my favorite Senator from the state of Oklahoma, that's only because Inhofe is terrible almost beyond belief) to pass the Coburn-Obama earmark transparency legislation. It will, as it says in the linked page, let us know better where our tax dollars are being spent. However, what's far more important is the effect such legislation has and will have on K Street lobbyists and the military-industrial complex.

It'll now be far harder for members of Congress to hide wasteful earmarks like the Bridge to Nowhere and the billions of dollars wasted on outdated and unnecessary weapons and other defense projects. After all, Ted Stevens (pending further investigation) and Duke Cunningham's were bribed by defense contractors in return for earmarks for unnecessary projects (this may be why Stevens put a hold on the bill in the first place).

Health Care for Hybrids Act

So it's only natural that Obama's proposed a plan to finally get Detroit to start making fuel-efficient cars.

Obama started with four crucial facts.

  1. Foreign (especially Japanese) cars are significantly more fuel-efficient than domestic cars
  1. Gas prices continue to rise
  1. G.M. spends about $1,500/car on health care
  1. The Big Three are convinced CAFE standard increases will doom them financially, and UAW has gone along with them for fear of losing jobs and benefits (I'm not going to get into whether or not these fears are reasonable.

Using these facts, Senator Obama, along with Representative Jay Inslee, came up with this plan.

Here is a summary, in their words:

This bill would set up a voluntary program in which automakers could choose to receive federal financial assistance towards their retiree healthcare costs. In return, the automakers would be required to reinvest these savings into developing fuel-efficient vehicles. As a result, our proposal would measurably reduce our nation's dependence on oil. Some of these technologies are already available and awaiting use by the Big Three.

Instead of a no-strings-attached financial bailout of the auto industry that could lead to factories being built overseas, our proposal could jumpstart the industry to commercialize new technology that consumers are demanding. More American hybrid cars also ensure that there is competition in this growing market, and would also help keep car prices low.

The plan, pioneered by the Center for American Progress, eliminates or greatly reduces the rationale on the part of the auto industry and UAW for opposition to CAFE increases, and also gives a much-needed jumpstart to the American auto industry and the Rust Belt by increasing research into fuel-efficient vehicles that will make Americans want to start buying American cars again.

You can listen to him talk about this Act, and about the automotive industry and CAFE standards in general in this video (a speech given to the Detroit Economic Club)

Potential Criticisms
The most likely criticism of this plan from a progressive standpoint is that it's a poor substitute for universal healthcare. This may be true. However, of the three Democratic candidates who have released
their healthcare plans, only Kucinich's single-payer plan would totally free GM and Ford from their health-care obligations and put all GM and Ford employees on government-sponsored health care/insurance.

The Obama and Edwards plans both assume and require as a condition of their fiscal success that businesses will not immediately drop all employees they're currently covering. To prevent such a thing, under both plans, they will be required to pay an additional tax to help pay for covering their employees under the plan they choose (public or private).

Edwards:

Businesses have a responsibility to support their employees’ health. They will be required to either provide a comprehensive health plan to their employees or to contribute
to the cost of covering them through Health Markets.  
-Universal Coverage Through Shared Responsibility(pg. 3)

Obama:

(3) EMPLOYER CONTRIBUTION. Employers that do not offer meaningful coverage or
make a meaningful contribution to the cost of quality health coverage for their employees will be required to contribute a percentage of payroll toward the costs of the national
plan. Barack Obama's plan for a Healthy America (pgs. 4-5)

So under the health-care plans of the two serious Democratic candidates who've released them (and almost certainly under the plan Hillary will come up with), GM and Ford will still have a big burden to pay for health care [this can be considered a legitimate problem with both plans, of course].

Therefore, even with either universal health care plan signed into law, this piece of legislation is fully relevant and needed.

Some might also say that all we need is political willpower to push and we can get really high CAFE standards as a stand-alone.

This ignores the reality of the situation. Last session of Congress, Sherwood Boehlert introduced an amendment to the Energy Policy Act to increase CAFE standards to 33 mpg by 2015. It got more than enough Republican votes to pass (36) had every Democrat stayed on board. But 60 Democrats did not do so.

And it was largely not the "DINOs" who voted against this amendment. Allen Boyd, Jim Cooper, Harold Ford, Stephanie Herseth, Jim Matheson, Collin Peterson, Ike Skelton and Gene Taylor all voted YEA.

What killed the bill was nearly entirely

  1. Democrats from fossil-fuel-producing areas (oil&natural gas: 9 of 11 Texas Dems, Dan Boren, both Dems from Louisiana, 2 Dems from Arkansas; coal: most Appalachian/other coal area Dems, including Holden and Kanjorski from PA, Chandler from KY, Gordon and Davis from TN, all the Dems from AL and WV, and Rick Boucher, John Salazar).
  1. Democrats from areas with big UAW/auto/auto part presences (all 6 Dems from Michigan, including John Conyers, Strickland, Jones and Kaptur from Ohio, Visclosky from Indiana, Cleaver and Clay from Missouri, Scott from Virginia, Scott from Atlanta, Jim Clyburn from SC, Danny Davis and Bobby Rush from Illinois).

Support for the Healthcare for Hybrids Act

Most importantly, the legislation is getting good reviews (not superb, but it's impossible to get nearly every interest group to love a bill; it's amazing enough to get them all to even like it) from all sorts of disparate interests.

"(Healthcare for Hybrids') stroke of genius is in connecting the dots - decreasing oil consumption is clearly a top national priority but it will not happen without a national investment."  -Walter McManus, director of U of Michigan's Transportation Institute

... A better proposal would be to offer health care for autoworkers in exchange for higher fuel economy standards -- the 'Health Care for Hybrids' idea that Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton are advocating. That proposal demands competitiveness and accountability from the industry. Michael Shellenberger, co-founder of the Apollo Alliance for Good Jobs and Clean Energy

While, the UAW doesn’t endorse all the specifics in these bills; we do wholeheartedly support the central thrust of these proposals: that the government can and should promote greater energy independence by providing incentives for auto companies to manufacture alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles and components in the United States.

We are not advocating a "bail out for Detroit’s Big Three." We firmly believe that any incentives must be designed to establish a truly level playing field among all the automakers and automotive parts suppliers. We believe that, in the near term, the most important thing the federal government can do to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil would be to aggressively promote the production, sale and use of alternative fuel vehicles.
-Ron Gettelfinger, UAW President

[Sen. Obama] is addressing two of the nation's greatest challenges, energy security and healthcare,... Like every large employer, we do face increasing healthcare costs driven largely by an uncompetitive health care market. We look forward to working with the senator in finding solutions to that dilemma. -Ford Motor Company

Originally posted to DemocraticLuntz on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 12:36 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great diary (8+ / 0-)

    Full of info. I think this is a good compromise. Rec'd.

  •  You put a lot of work into this. (9+ / 0-)

    A very substantive diary.

    I'll get you, my pretty.....and your little dog too.

    by chicago minx on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 12:38:14 PM PDT

  •  Very interesting idea. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Elise, Potus2020, LV Pol Girl

    It boggles my mind why the US automakers have not embraced hybrid technology, if that's truly where the market seems to be going.

    We need both hybrid electric and flex-fuel cars. Hopefully this will work. The key would be automakers genuinely investing in real research efforts.

    To me, the idea of a GM flex-fuel hybrid is brilliant. I can see the nationalistic ads now -- "An American car that runs on American fuel." (aka corn ethanol)

    •  They've done some ads like that. The problem is (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Elise, kath25

      that with current technology, corn is a pretty inefficient way to produce ethanol. The reason it's been on the national agenda for so long is due to a coalition of Senators from corn-growing states (IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, PA, SD, WI) and the many Senators with presidential aspirations [worried about the vote in Iowa, #1 corn state).

      They're finally starting to move away from it

      Join the College Kossacks on Facebook, or the Republicans win.

      by DemocraticLuntz on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 12:52:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What's the status (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Elise

        on the guy from Sun Microsystems? He wanted to build ethanol plants next to orange-processing plants and like fruit/vegetable plants. So, after that OJ is squeezed from those oranges, the peels and pith can be turned into ethanol. Saw something on it last year.

        Also, apparently prairie grass might make good ethanol too?

        The highways down here have nice wildflowers and grassy medians (thank you, Lady Bird!). They were all mowed down a few weeks back. I thought to myself, "all of that vegetation should be taken to an ethanol plant and turned into fuel."

  •  Some Detroit props for this diary. (10+ / 0-)

    As someone who generally finds the bulk of the green policies espoused on DailyKos to ignore the realities on the ground in Michigan(which happens to be a source of a very large number of loyal Dems), I enthusiastically recommend this diary.

  •  Gotta love Obama and the connections he makes (8+ / 0-)

    Taking the cost of health care and linking it to CAFE standards and fuel efficency is the kind of connection we need our politicians to be making.  The interconnectedness of the economy is key.  Nothing exists in a vaccum.  Health care is related to the auto industry.  The auto industry and innovation in fuel efficiency is related to research and education.  Education can spur innovation related to the environment.  It's all one issue really.  Can we be progressive and solve problems or do we continue to silo our specialties, insulate our issues from others and keep politics a weapon rather than a bridge.  

  •  Thank you (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jj32, Elise, LV Pol Girl

    positive, informative, and on two critical issues.

    Three things cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. Buddha

    by zenbowl on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 12:45:42 PM PDT

    •  Great Diary, but...... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Elise, masslib

      "Foreign (especially Japanese) cars are significantly more fuel-efficient than domestic cars"

      The overall CAFE rating for Toyota is 29.6 MPG in 2007, GM was 25.4 MPG for 2007. Yes Toyota makes the Prius and Yaris that makes the average higher, but overall, every automaker is guilty for not improving fuel economy.

  •   somewhat off topic.... (6+ / 0-)

    the burden of retiree health care is killing lots of companies.  For that reason alone, GM moves manufacturing to Ontario, where the national health care system picks up the costs...or more properly said, costs are LOWER all the way around.

    At any rate, we have needs for domestic car production and fuel efficent cars too.

    December is the new September.

    by Inland on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 12:46:47 PM PDT

  •  Nice (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jj32, Elise

    I should mention that Hillary Clinton has also gotten some kudos for going out of her way to work with Republicans in the senate, and good for her. I realize that the concept of "going out of your way" to do anything with Republicans is frowned upon here, but I don't think hyperpartisanship on EITHER side is ultimately good for the country. What I'd really like to see is right wing partisans marginalized and any remaining "sensible" Republicans realizing that if a good idea is out there, they can't not support it just because it was also supported by Democrats. That's not the same thing as caving to right wing partisans, nor is it the same thing as insulting all Republicans every chance one gets.

    Put the circular firing squad in the circular file.

    by JMS on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 12:48:17 PM PDT

  •  Heh. (5+ / 0-)

    my favorite Senator from the state of Oklahoma

    That's roughly the equivalent of being the best hockey player in Equador.

    It drives me crazy that the big 3 have to be pushed into taking action that is in their best interest.  If there is any corporate management that is more incompetent than that of U.S. auto manufacturers, I don't know what it is...

    "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent." -- Thomas Jefferson [-4.25, -5.33]

    by GTPinNJ on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 12:48:58 PM PDT

    •  I agree. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GTPinNJ, unionboy

      Betting the farm on gas-guzzling SUV's was stupid, and if life were "fair" the free market would make them pay for their gross mismanagement.  I wouldn't mind seeing the execs at the Big Three emptying their desks tomorrow without golden parachutes... they deserve it for being so mind-bogglingly myopic.

      But America needs an American auto industry turning out efficient, quality automobiles and paying living wages and benefits to American workers (who in turn will buy other products and make the economy stronger).  This means we all have to work together - government, the workers, and industry leaders - to chart a fair, sane way forward.  Barack Obama is taking the lead in doing just that.

  •  I just watched "Who Killed the Electric Car" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    masslib

    yesterday.  I saw the video of GM hauling away EV-1 prototypes from a collection lot in Burbank so that they could be destroyed.  The cops arrested a group of former EV-1 owners who were trying to stop this atrocity.

    Lemme get this straight.  GM destroyed its own prototype electric vehicles over the strenuous objections of the people who had been driving them.  The taxpayers are now supposed to give them a break so that they can (pardon the pun) reinvent the wheel?

    The underlying premise behind this bill is that Detroit wants to move forward on this technology, but it needs a little carrot to nudge it along.  GM's actions make it clear that Detroit has no interest in moving forward.  Whatever progress that occurs will come from Honda and Toyota.

    The reasons to subsidize Detroit here have everything to do w/ politics and nothing to do w/ policy.

    Some men see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were and ask why not?

    by RFK Lives on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 12:53:24 PM PDT

    •  That was at $1.25/gallon or so; not $3.00+ (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Elise, kath25, pamelabrown

      Times change.

      And Ford seems interested; at any rate, if they don't move forward on fuel-efficiency, they don't get any help with health care and the bill becomes irrelevant.

      Join the College Kossacks on Facebook, or the Republicans win.

      by DemocraticLuntz on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 12:59:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In Brazil (5+ / 0-)

        Ford and GM are the leading auto sellers thanks to their flex-fuel cars.

        Brazil mandated that by a certain point all new cars be flex-fuel.

        They can do whatever they need to keep selling cars. We just lack the political will to make them do it here.

        •  true to a point. people also have to be willing (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kath25

          to giveup driving their suv's and switch to small fuel efficient vehicles.

          GM right now makes full size trucks, suv's, and busses that are hybrid and get anywhere from double to 25% better fuel economy depending on which vehicle. And there are lots of people who really need a truck or an suv.

          But for true fuel conservation you have to give up horsepower and size.

          Now if people would buy the right vehicle for the job rather than a huge 4x4 suv because they drive in the snow twice a year we could substantially improve the american average fleet economy.

          "every saint has a past, every sinner has a future" Oscar Wilde

          by buddabelly on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 03:12:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  A very substantive diary , DL (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jj32, Elise, Jennifer Clare

      Thanks.  All you non-Obama supporters should recommend as it significantly opens dialogue...er make that potentially...

  •  Excellent Diary (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Elise, Jennifer Clare, kath25, Pegasus

    We should get it on the recommended list..

    "I want my voice, to be read"

    by icebergslim on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 12:59:27 PM PDT

  •  An idealistic bailout of Detroit. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jj32, Pegasus

    That's what I would call this, in the least pejorative way I could muster.  I think this is what people mean when they talk about Obama's strength at compromising -- he can find solutions that are not perfect for anyone, but may be satisfactory for everyone.

    I don't like the idea of the federal government giving tons of money to the Big 3 to make up for the horrible management decisions they've made over the past, what, 30 years. But I realize that the alternative is to let them fail slowly and, while that may be "fair", it will entail a lot of pain for the economy in certain states.

    I also don't like a move that has the potential to push back the date that we inevitably adopt nationalized health care.  This puts a band-aid (a very small one) on the system by enabling us to continue in the employer-based dead end we currently find ourselves in.  But, on the other hand, perhaps it eases the transition by allowing the government to assume financial responsibility for a small segment before jumping into insuring all of us.

    I'm not sure I like this plan, since I'm enough of a dreamer to hope that Detroit will figure out how to survive on its own AND the nation will adopt national health care; but I realize that neither of these things may happen.  But besides that, I think it looks good for Obama that he keeps on coming up with ideas like this that satisfy, at least partially, interests that may be distinct or even in direct competition.

    •  I don't see how this postpones health care law. (0+ / 0-)

      Obama has pledged to enact his national health care reform in his first term, period. Whether the auto industry receives federal subsidizies for its contributions to its employees' health care is a separate issue. The diarist explains this in this passage:

      The Obama and Edwards plans both assume and require as a condition of their fiscal success that businesses will not immediately drop all employees they're currently covering. To prevent such a thing, under both plans, they will be required to pay an additional tax to help pay for covering their employees under the plan they choose (public or private).

      "What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?" - J. Madison

      by berith on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 02:38:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks DL, that was a really good read. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Elise, Jennifer Clare

    Obama's plan is a classic example of the progressive possibilities of good government.

    As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

    by Pegasus on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 01:28:15 PM PDT

  •  What percentage of retiree future healthcare... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Elise

    costs has been funded?  What type of numbers are we talking about?

    Is this percentage similar to the percentage in other industries or the public sector?

    •  P.S.: I found this story very interesting. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Elise
      •  This will be interesting, CAL11 voter, as SF is (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Elise, CAL11 voter

        starting to provide health care for all city residents.

        It'll be interesting and exciting to see how it goes. Cities and states are beginning to take the lead on many issues as the federal govt. is mired in Bushism, corruption and stagnation. New solutions are finally starting to be tried by cities and states, something that looked impossible just a few years ago for the past couple decades. There's hope now that we could be on the verge of a new progressive era after all.

        Children in the U.S... detained [against] intl. & domestic standards." --Amnesty Internati

        by doinaheckuvanutjob on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 02:37:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great great diary DL!! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VolvoDrivingLiberal

    Highly Recommended.

    I touched the Universe -- And back it slid -- and I alone -- A Speck upon a Ball -- Went out upon Circumference -- Beyond the Dip of Bell --

    by Elise on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 03:01:26 PM PDT

  •  We can do better (0+ / 0-)

    I like the ingenuity of trying to combine solutions in health insurance, energy conservation and environment, and I realize this is a very pro-Obama thread. As a "voluntary" program  affecting only one segment of our production economy "Healthcare for Hybrids" is like a pilot program. My concern, however, even (and perhaps especially) as a pilot-model, is that the federal government’s public income tax dollars (competing with air traffic control, highways, air and water pollution abatement and many other public needs) will be used to subsidize private commercial for-profit health insurance which is an unnecessary expense to incur (why should income taxpayers pay for inflated insurance CEO salaries and stockholder dividends?). Instead there could be a dedicated (not go begging hat in hand) national single payer fund financed by a fair tax (like Medicare) creating a health insurance system that would operate like a low-cost, well-regulated public utility, saving companies enough money to compete better, keep and grow jobs -- and invest money in hybrid technology.  Single payer is not just a health insurance plan, it’s an economic plan.

    I realize the top tier candidates are still wedded to commercial health insurance for various reasons, one being the intimidating problem of enormous magnitude of cash washing through insurance company coffers involving banks, money managers, investors, Wall Street, etc. It’s the insurance-industrial complex wielding enormous power and influence over politicians in various ways. Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton take PAC money from insurance companies (Edwards doesn't), although I doubt that really influences them much on thinking about health insurance. They are lobbied heavily, the talk all around them in Congress is geared toward commercial insurance, and my hunch is that they haven't yet developed the mindset set to step beyond the status quo of corporate insurance. They might even have a slight tinge of fear to be painted as "socialist" if they embraced publicly funded (and privately delivered) healthcare.

    For my money, as someone who believes in the capitalistic system, I would rather think in terms of moving toward single payer by incorporating health insurance into our business world like a non-profit department of companies whose minimal costs are part of the cost of doing business, administered more efficiently than private insurance. I think in the long run, single payer will be good for business, for major industries like car makers, and for workers who are covered by medical insurance they can take from job to job. The only sector single payer is not good for is the corporatists who seek to make profits for the sake alone of making profits, not building businesses that grow American jobs. Corporatists got hold of health insurance a couple of decades ago and found the cash cow of all time. It’s time for that cow to come home and nurture us -- the people and our businesses and companies.  

    Sen. Obama would be wise to look away from commercial insurance to the future which will be single payer, not because it’s "nice" or "kind" or "more humane like France" (see Moore’s film) but because it makes the best economic sense. For the best design, Mr. Obama would be smart to study the single payer bill pending in the California legislature, SB 840, and get on the phone with the bill's chief sponsor, CA Sen. Sheila Kuehl, one the nation's best experts on insurance of any kind (see her essays on single payer).  

  •  As a retired auto industry exec, I can say this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Inland, DemocraticLuntz

    is one of the most creative, workable ideas to come forth from a politician in a long time. Great diary DL.

    Live in the Atlanta area?: Join the Atlanta Kos meetup group now forming by clicking on the homepage link in my profile.

    by VolvoDrivingLiberal on Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 05:03:13 PM PDT

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