Car dealer Kelly takes business approach to Congress after GM bailout

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) had long been concerned about the direction the federal government was headed, but those concerns crystallized in a call he got in the spring of 2009 from a General Motors executive.

Kelly, owner of Kelly Chevrolet-Cadillac Inc., founded by his father in 1953, was told his dealership could no longer sell Cadillacs.

“In a five-minute phone call they essentially wiped out 56 years of working every day to make sure that that business could stay open,” Kelly said.


Although the downsizing was GM’s decision, and accompanied a reduction in plants and dealerships throughout the country, it came after the federal government had bailed the company out with billions of dollars in loans and had chosen its chief executive.

“I said ‘I’m going to fight it,’ and he laughed and said, ‘You, Mike Kelly, one attorney, limited revenue — you’re going to fight the U.S. government? You don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of winning.’ I said, ‘You know what? I’ll take those odds,’ ” Kelly said, recalling the phone conversation.

And he won. The company reinstated his franchising rights to keep selling Cadillacs. 

“I said to myself, if they can do that to Mike Kelly in Butler, Pa., they can do just about anything to anybody, anytime, anywhere they want,” Kelly said. “There are times in your life when you realize things have gone so badly off track that you’ve got to get involved.”

Kelly said he thinks government should be run like a business.

“I don’t mean to sound arrogant about it, but most small businesses run much better than this place,” Kelly said. “This is the only place in the world I know where a return on investment is not a big deal.”

Kelly said the solution is “simple math,” blaming Congress for spending more than it has in revenue, which has averaged $2 trillion the last few years. President Obama’s 2012 budget was $3.7 trillion.

“I think the overall picture is pretty much self-explanatory: You can’t spend money you don’t have,” Kelly said. “I think we’re in denial in this country. We’ve thought for way, way too long that we could do anything we want because we’re the greatest country in the world, we’re the wealthiest in the world. What we really are is the deepest-in-debt country in the world.”

The message from the administration has been that members of Congress need to sit down and have an adult conversation about the debt crisis, but Kelly dismisses that kind of talk.

“This isn’t an adult conversation; a child could do the math and figure out that there is a big problem. … We need to get away from this ‘It takes adults to figure this out.’ Really? That’s what got us in trouble,” Kelly said. “The adults all got together and played; they played with it and didn’t fix it.

“Everybody in every form of government has absolutely turned a blind eye to doing what makes sense and has done maybe what is politically attractive — supplying people with things and again over-promising things. You can’t do that,” Kelly said. “You do that in business and you’re done. You tell somebody one time that you’re going to do something for them and you don’t do it, you know what they do? They never come back to you again, and I think that’s why Congress has such a low approval rating.”

The promise of Social Security concerns Kelly most because he said a lot of hard-working people in his district physically couldn’t afford to work a few more years. He said the problem started when Congress began using Social Security funds to pay for other programs.

“We kind of robbed Peter to pay Paul, and now we’re looking at those funds saying they’re going to run out. Well, why did they run out? Because you used it the wrong way,” Kelly said.

He said he believes means-testing should be looked at to help keep Social Security solvent. 

Like most House Republicans, Kelly voted for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage How does the 25th Amendment work? Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act MORE’s (R-Wis.) 2012 budget proposal. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted him with robo-calls saying he voted to end Medicare. He said that angered him.

“I really find it offensive, when you don’t have a plan, absolutely no fix for what is wrong and then you … tell seniors that they’re going to lose … their Medicare and Medicaid and it’s all because of Republican policy — that’s a flat-out lie,” Kelly said. “They know it’s a lie and they still put it out there and the reasoning is that’s what they have to do to win the next election.”

Kelly said that if the Republican Party were doing the same thing, he would leave it.

“Right now Paul Ryan … has put out the only program that has saved these programs,” Kelly said. “If the other side has a better model, then please bring it forward.”