Lawmakers trade accusations of politicizing auto bailout pension probe

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Republicans on the panel alleged that the Obama administration purposely excluded non-union workers from the pension payment plan.

“The recent release of an audit by the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program shed light on the facts and circumstances surrounding this decision,” Oversight Committee Government Reform Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said. 

“We know that despite the Treasury's pledge not to be involved in the day-to-day operations of G.M., that in fact Treasury and Auto Task Force played a major role in the decisions concerning G.M. operations,” Mica continued. “And this is what SIGTARP found, ‘The four Treasury auto teams’ -- and again, quote – ‘played a direct role in G.M.'s decisions and operations up to and through bankruptcy, including replacing the then- chief executive officer with Treasury's choice.’ So it shows a story a little bit different than we've been told, and confirms, unfortunately, some of our worst suspicions.”

Democrats on the Oversight Committee accused Republicans of beating a dead horse.

“Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for convening what common sense would suggest will be the capstone on this committee's five-hearing inquiry into G.M.'s decision-making on Delphi pensions during the extraordinarily successful rescue of the United States automotive industry,” the ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said to Mica during his opening remarks.

“It is unfortunate that regardless of these impressive results, Republicans continue to criticize the successful rescue of the American auto industry,” Cummings continued. “The majority, including members of this committee, has perpetuated the narrative that government officials made the decision that the salaried retirees of Delphi would not get top-ups.”

Cummings said his take away from the auto bailout pension report’s finding was that there was nothing to the GOP’s accusations of impropriety against the Obama administration.

“We know now that that narrative is inaccurate,” he said. “SIGTARP's report makes clear that a high-ranking G.M. official made that decision, not the administration. SIGTARP also found that at the time of Delphi's spinoff from G.M. in 1999, the pensions of Delphi- salary workers were fully funded.”

Republicans were unconvinced.

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) accused Cummings of not reading the report.

“I'm just astonished,” Turner said. “I’m sorry Mr. Cummings, I usually don't respond directly to what someone else is saying in their opening statement, but all of that has absolutely nothing to do with this hearing whatsoever and I hope that you actually sit down and read this report.”

Turner rejected Cumming’s claim that the Delphi pension issue had already been studied enough.

“There is partisan politics that shouldn't be happening here...in this hearing and the [Government Accountability Office] report was not as extensive as this SIGTARP report has been,” he said. 

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) accused Republicans of attempting to backseat drive after the auto bailouts have proven to be successful.

"It's easy to discount the monumental achievement in light of current auto industry conditions," Connolly said. "Consider just two years ago, G.M. sold more than 9 million vehicles on its way to posting a record- breaking profit of $7.6 million, a company on the ropes that was looking at liquidation in 2009. Just last month, G.M. posted its best month ever since the Great Recession.

"We must not forget the perilous days of late 2008 when leading economic think tanks were projecting the bankruptcy of all U.S. automotive manufacturing and that would trigger a collapse of the domestic auto industry costing us an additional 3 million jobs while we were shutting 750 a month -- 750,000," he continued.

The Delphi pension bailouts became a flashpoint during the campaign between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) last year.

Republicans used the issue to rebut criticism from Democrats about Romney’s opposition to the initial federal bailouts that were given to the auto companies.