Tester: Automakers must be held accountable

Senator raises concerns over bailout proposal for automakers

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester is raising concerns about a $25 billion proposal in Congress to bail out the nation's top three automakers.

Tester has not made a final decision about his vote on the bailout proposal, expected tomorrow in the Senate.  But last night Tester grilled the top executives of Ford, Chrysler and GM about the proposal during a four-hour Senate Banking Committee hearing.

Tester, who voted against the $700 billion Wall Street bailout last month, told the executives that "people in Montana are experiencing bailout fatigue."

"A lot of industries are struggling right now," Tester said.  "And it's time to work on solutions that will help all of them."

Tester raised several questions during the hearing, including:

·         Where will the bailout money be spent?  Tester is concerned that the money won't be spent in the U.S. to create American jobs.  He noted many of the companies produce vehicles in other countries.

·         Are the companies willing to produce more marketable vehicles?  Tester expressed frustration that many American vehicles—especially light trucks—aren't becoming more fuel efficient.  Tester said fuel efficiency is "a very good marketing tool."

·         Has the $300 billion in bailout money spent so far benefitted the auto industry?  All three executives answered no.

Tester also asked all three executives whether they would be willing to accept a salary of $1 per year until their companies become profitable, as former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca did when the government bailed out his company in 1979.  Current Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli said he would be willing to accept a $1 per year salary.  Ford President Alan Mulally and GM Chairman Richard Wagoner also suggested they would be willing to make sacrifices.

Tester was outraged by recent reports of failed companies using taxpayer bailout money to pay its top executives.

"When I go back home, [Montanans] ask me why I give money to anybody—including the automotive manufacturers—because of what those executives have done," Tester said.

Tester believes the best way to stimulate and rebuild the economy is to take a "ground up" approach—putting the middle class to work by investing in infrastructure, education, health care and energy independence.