'And Tell Me, Mr. CEO, Did You Buckle Your Seat Belt?'

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank sketches the return of "The Big Three" to Capitol Hill. Video by Akira Hakuta, Gaby Bruna/washingtonpost.com
By Dana Milbank
Friday, December 5, 2008

The Big Three were looking awfully small as they rolled into the Senate yesterday for their second attempt to beg money from the federal government.

Since their debacle last month -- when they flew to town on their corporate jets and arrogantly demanded a bailout -- they had all agreed to work for a dollar a year. And they had abandoned their air fleets to make the 520-mile trip to Washington by car -- a display of contrition that could not have been more obvious if the executives showed up in sackcloth and ashes.

Yet even that was not enough.

"Did you drive, or did you have a driver?" demanded Richard Shelby (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate banking committee, which questioned the lowly threesome. "Did you drive a little and ride a little? And secondly, I guess, are you going to drive back? And, if so, if some of us wanted a ride to Detroit, could we ride with you?"

The chairman, Chris Dodd (Conn.), tried to ease the tension with some levity. "Where'd you stay?" he asked. "What did you eat?"

But Shelby was having none of it. "Mr. Chairman wants to make light of this, but I can tell you this," he growled. "Are you planning to drive back?"

"Yes, sir," Chrysler's Bob Nardelli promised. "And I did have a colleague ride, and we rotated. We drove, left Tuesday night and drove until midnight and then got up at 5:30 the next morning and drove the rest of the way in, and we did rotate, and I do plan to drive back."

Shelby glowered at Ford's Alan Mulally. "What about you?"

"We carpooled," the CEO said. "I drove, and I'm driving back."

Shelby was not impressed. "You didn't carpool with him, did you?" he demanded, referring to Nardelli.

"No, carpooled with our Ford people," Mulally assured the angry senator.

"Okay, what about you?" Shelby said, turning to General Motors's Rick Wagoner.

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