Hometownlife.com - Levin: Working 24/7 on Michigan issues: 05/31/09

Original Story

By LeAnne Rogers
OBSERVER STAFF WRITER

Not surprisingly, Sen. Carl Levin is working full time on issues relating to the biggest problem facing Michigan.

“The thing that is going on 24/7 is the auto industry. Everyone in the Michigan, Ohio and Indiana delegations — the auto states, we call them — is so involved, I can’t say,” said the Michigan Democrat, who spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Garden City Kiwanis Club.

The most important accomplishment of the delegation has been giving President Barack Obama and his administration a better understanding on the importance of the auto industry and manufacturing overall, Levin said.

“My brother and I worked in auto plants. We take it personally when colleagues have a negative stereotype about the auto industry,” said Levin. “No other country in the world would allow its auto industry to go down. In Japan, auto workers are literally on the government payroll — they won’t let the industry go with this worldwide economic slump.”

Working with the White House automotive task force, Levin said he hopes and believes their feelings toward the auto industry have changed.

“At a press conference, the president encouraged people to buy American cars — you never heard that before,” said Levin, adding manufacturing has been the basis for the existence of the middle class.

Levin was concerned about the public perception of an anticipated bankruptcy filing by General Motors, an effort at reorganization that would follow the recent filing by Chrysler.

“The trouble is because of the word bankruptcy. It’s a devastating word that suggests an end to the average person,” said Levin. “There are many parts of bankruptcy law. Chapter 11 is restructuring — a new beginning. Instead of an end, it can be a rebirth. General Motors will be smaller. There will be a lot of pain — the bondholders will take a bath — but there will be a company.”

Levin mentioned two recent bills signed by the president in which he had been very involved — credit card reform and ending military cost overruns.

“I was deeply involved with the credit card bill that will stop practices like unilateral interest increases that were applied retroactively to an existing balance,” said Levin.

As chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Levin and the senior Republican member Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., co-sponsored the bill aimed at controlling overpaying for military projects.

“We have to give our troops all they need. We’ll fight over policy but give to the troops and their families all that we can,” said Levin. “We learned from Vietnam. We support our troops. We don’t want to overpay for weapons systems, that takes money away from needed programs.”

Levin took questions from audience members which included members of the Garden City Rotary Club. One man asked whether the United States might be drawn into a war with North Korea.

“The only goal of the people in charge in North Korea is to stay in power. In Iran, you have religious fanatics who might do something that they think will get them into heaven,” Levin responded. “I would bet a lot of money there will be no war in Korea. It’s blackmail. They want to be given a lot of food and money. The Middle East and Afghanistan are a lot more complicated.”

Responding to a question about what making American workers live at Third World levels to be competitive in the world, Levin said he had worked to fight tariffs and other practices that keep U.S. companies from selling products in other countries.

“Our companies are competing with other countries that support their industries. Look at the number of cars Korea sells here but try to sell U.S. cars in Korea,” said Levin. “Are we going to be real aggressive in partnering with manufacturers?”

In introducing Levin, Rotarian Wilma Healy noted she had first met Levin in 1978 when as a Harper Woods City Council member she volunteered to work on the senatorial campaign of Levin, then a Detroit City Council member.

Healy had a picture of the two with a group that Levin noted included former governor G. Mennen Williams and then-gubernatorial candidate Bill Fitzgerald.

“Forget the color of my hair (in the photo) — I had hair. Wilma has been trying to get me here for a long time and I was finally able to do it,” said Levin.

Ken Hines didn’t get a chance to ask his questions before time ran out.

“I wanted to ask why the government was dictating the Fiat partnership with Chrysler,” he said. “Also a question about universal health care. We’ve got it in Medicare. If the government worked on it, we could just expand that.”

“He was all right. I liked they way if someone asked a question, he would give a dissertation but comes back to the person to give an answer to the question,” said Norah Fix. “He was very straightforward.”