Don’t miss "Salvaging the Auto Industry," a Boston Globe op-ed from Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), two of the Dems’ brightest lights on energy issues. (Inslee wrote a piece in Grist on his New Apollo Energy Act.)

Obama and Inslee propose a piece of legislation called the “Health Care for Hybrids” Act. The idea is that the feds would help American auto companies pay some of their enormous healthcare costs; in return, the companies would commit to using the money to develop fuel-efficient vehicles.

I’m a little dubious about the bill on the merits.

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For one thing, the growing inability of American corporations to keep up with healthcare costs, while painful in the short term, is part of the inevitable transition to universal, government-run health care (and yes, Virginia, it is inevitable). Little stopgap measures like this only delay that process — or worse, create the illusion that government-funded, industry-provided, insurance-company-administered health care is somehow a desirable outcome, as opposed to a monstrous melange of inefficiencies.

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For another, while it may be true that healthcare costs that are preventing American automakers from staying solvent (though I think that’s been exaggerated a bit), it certainly isn’t true that healthcare costs are preventing American automakers from investing what money they do invest in fuel-efficient cars. In effect, Obama and Inslee are saying to GM et al., "we’ll shovel some money your way as long as you promise to spend it in a way that will reverse your decline and serve your shareholders."

I mean, I’m no libertarian, but if a company has to be paid to do that, perhaps they’re not fit to compete in the global marketplace at all, no?

On the other hand, it’s great that these issues are gaining traction, and it’s wise for Obama and Inslee to get out ahead of them. So there’s that.

Update [2006-2-9 10:19:52 by David Roberts]: Ah, and of course I would be remiss not to point out that our very own Amanda Griscom Little penned a column in part about this very matter, delightfully titled “The School of Barack.” I say “delightfully” because, if memory serves, I titled it.

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