Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, raised the possibility Thursday of attaching an extreme, unusual condition to any taxpayer bailout of U.S. automakers: forcing General Motors and Chrysler to merge to save what they have estimated could be $8 billion to $10 billion a year.
Somewhat surprisingly, the chiefs of both companies said they might agree to that — although the United Auto Workers union balked.
Bennett said during a Senate Banking Committee hearing, "Everything I have seen would suggest to me that a merger between General Motors and Chrysler is a good idea. It's not a shotgun wedding ... It's a marriage that makes sense." So he asked if that were made a condition of a bailout, if the companies would agree.
"The first job that would go would be mine. But if, in fact, that is the criteria that means we get money to save Chrysler ... I would do it," said Chrysler chairman Bob Nardelli.
GM chairman Rick Wagoner said, "I would be very willing to look at it."
But UAW president Ron Gettelfinger said he isn't sure the merger would save money, and "it would be unbelievable the number of people who would lose their jobs."
Bennett said while assembly line jobs would be lost, "It's the middle management, the top management that would get hit first because instead of two corporate structures, you'd only have one." He added that eliminating unneeded jobs may be a key to long-term survival of the companies.