Paul Greenberg

Would you buy a used auto company from any of the Big Three's execs who've been poormouthing before Congress? Their goal: to have Uncle Sucker -- that's you, Mr. and Ms. American Taxpayer -- save them from the results of their own poor management. They've got a clunker to sell and would love for the rest of us to take it off their hands. Would you give these highbinders your good hard-earned cash?

Of course not. But Congress is about to. It's not as if it's spending its own money.

Having had their first request for $25 billion rejected and told to come back with a plan to make their companies profitable, the Big Three's execs returned last week -- not on their private jets this time but with even more torque-powered chutzpah. They upped the ante to $35 billion (it's the add-ons that always cost the most when you're buying a new model) and promised to build the kind of cars that Congress (not necessarily the American consumer) wants.

At last report, the shrinking Big Three were willing to accept $15 billion -- for now -- and the services of a federal Car Czar to oversee their restructuring. Much like a used car salesman's dropping the price and offering all kinds of concessions as the customer is about to leave the lot. It's the kind of deal only a congressman might consider a bargain.

There's a solution for businesses that have real, salvageable assets but hopeless balance sheets. It's called bankruptcy, which relieves poorly run companies of their dead wood, frees them from their overwhelming debt, and gives everybody a chance to start all over again while saving what's worth saving.

If the Chicago Tribune can still come out every morning after entering bankruptcy, there's nothing to prevent Detroit from continuing to make cars while it's been reorganized.

Instead, the Big Three and their partner in incompetence, Big Labor, have turned to government -- i.e., We the People -- to keep themselves in business. At least for a little while -- maybe even through the next quarter, when they'll surely need another transfusion of public funds to stay afloat.

But there will always be pols like Chris Dodd, the senator from Countrywide, and Barney Frank, that comical class warrior of a congressman who now proposes to run the Big Three the way he did Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Namely, into the ground.

How? By substituting Congress' idea of socially desirable goals for prudent business practices, which is just what the Big Three have failed to practice. For them bankruptcy would be a step up.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.