No Special Panel Needed to Oversee Government’s Ownership of Auto Companies, House Majority Leader Says

By Matt Cover | June 4, 2009 | 8:31 AM EDT

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.)

( – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) says Congress will conduct oversight of the Obama administration’s ownership stake in General Motors – but Hoyer said Congress can do that without setting up a special oversight panel.
Speaking to reporters at his weekly press conference on Wednesday, Hoyer said that the various congressional committees were more than up to the task of overseeing the unprecedented government involvement in one of America’s oldest corporations.
The regular, standing committees will be exercising oversight, Hoyer said. He specifically mentioned the Financial Services, Education and Labor, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce Committees: “They will be exercising oversight,” Hoyer said.
“We have not created a specific oversight (panel) on the automobile issue,” Hoyer said. “There are other oversight authorities, as you know, but not specifically of the automobile industry.”
Congressional Democrats have set up special oversight bodies to supervise unprecedented interventions by the Executive Branch before now, most recently in connection with the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). In that case, Congressional leaders created both an independent oversight panel and a specific inspector-general to monitor the government’s involvement in the banking industry.
Those two new oversight bodies have worked in conjunction with Congress, often serving as the administration’s foil in congressional hearings and sometimes providing ammunition for TARP’s critics.
FBI Director Robert Mueller has said his organization is partnering with the TARP inspector-general to track how the federal government is handling the hundreds of billions of dollars already paid out under the plan.
The TARP Congressional Oversight Panel reported in February that the government had paid too much for the preferred, non-voting bank shares it purchased under TARP, wasting billions in taxpayers’ money.
Hoyer on Wednesday made a point of saying that neither the administration nor Congress wants to run General Motors’ day-to-day operations, despite the fact that the government effectively owns the company.
“I would emphasize (in) the administration’s view and our view, that notwithstanding the 60 percent share and the significantly analogous share in Chrysler, it clearly is not the intent of the administration to engage in the day-to-day operations of the automobile industry.”
In fact, the Obama administration has been heavily involved in the automaker’s business up to this point, directing the restructuring of both Chrysler and General Motors, ordering former GM CEO Rick Wagoner to step down, instructing both automakers to roll out smaller cars, and facilitating negotiations between the automakers, their creditors, and the United Auto Workers union.
Nevertheless, Hoyer said Congress is taking a hands-off approach:  He said what GM does day-to-day was not the Congress’ concern, despite nearly $50 billion in federal loans to the company.
“That’s their business,” Hoyer said.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate plans to conduct an oversight hearing next week on the administration’s auto task force, the Associated Press reported.
Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, said the Banking Committee, which he chairs, will review the use of taxpayer funds to restructure the auto industry and the decisions by the Obama administration to take ownership roles in GM and Chrysler.
And the AP reported that a group of Republicans wants to give Congress veto power over the expenditure of any bailout money to buy a stake in a company. They complain that Congress had no opportunity to review the Obama administration's decision to take 60 percent ownership of GM and a smaller stake in Chrysler, the AP said.