Playing chicken with a fiscal cliff isn't a new game in Washington. In 2008, when Congress voted down a rescue package for General Motors, Chrysler and their finance arms, the pressure on then-President George W. Bush to keep the automakers in business until Barack Obama took office grew intense. His top aides told Bush that letting GM and Chrysler collapse could trigger all kinds of financial calamity. So, under duress, Bush agreed to lend the companies $17.4 billion -- just enough to get them through a few weeks.
Today, four years to the day, the U.S. Treasury announced the beginning of the end of the U.S. auto industry bailout. Treasury says it will sell its remaining 500 million shares of GM over the next 15 months, starting with a 200 million share block to GM itself for $5.5 billion (or $27.50 a share.) Getting the government out has been a top goal of GM executives for years, and although the government will still lose some $20 billion on its investment, the auto industry can rightly argue that the costs of letting GM fail would have been far worse.