Last night on Special Report with Brit Hume, the Fox All-Star Panel discussed the possibility that a deal on the auto bailout would include the creation of a temporary oversight position in the executive branch dubbed the “Car Czar.” As Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) described it, the czar would be “charged with making sure the automakers retool.” According to the Los Angeles Times, the position would be given “far more authority than a bankruptcy judge would ever have.”
Noting that Obama will likely have to accept whomever Bush nominates, All-Star Panelist Fred Barnes called on President Bush to appoint right-wing darling Phil Gramm to the position:
BARNES: But the car czar, whether or not they will give the car czar that much power or not, I don’t know. I have a nominee: Phil Gramm!
HUME: One senses the Obama administration might not accept him.
BARNES: They have to.
While Barnes appeared to be at least half-joking, he inadvertently highlighted exactly why some progressives are so skeptical about the prospect of giving a Bush-appointed Car Czar nearly absolute authority to decide the fate of the Detroit automakers. While the current proposal apparently gives Bush the option of creating an entire oversight board, “[t]he widely held assumption is that Bush would appoint a single individual.”
As Ian Welsh explained:
The auto plan…gives the Auto Czar the absolute ability to decide if he or she likes the auto restructuring plan presented by the Big 3. If the Czar doesn’t, the loans can be immediately recalled. […]
That person does not answer to Congress and is chosen by the current President: George W. Bush. As best I can tell, the next president will not be able to fire him, though Obama could ask for his resignation, I guess. I don’t think the Czar would have to give it, however.
As Jonathan Cohn notes, the plan — as currently written — appears to make the czar judge and jury of the bailout process. Cohn writes, the czar “would have the authority to decide how we should judge the automakers’ progress in restructuring — and then, as the effort proceeds, to make those judgments on his or her own.”
The Bush administration is still suggesting that the current plan may “fall short” of its goals, which Welsh interpreted as, Bush’s “way of saying ‘let’s make it even more explicit, just in case my auto Czar isn’t loyal to me once I’m gone.’”