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Uberti: Detroit has enough problems without Congressional politics

An empty house is seen with the GM

An empty house is seen with the GM Building in downtown Detroit in the background. (March 3, 2013) Credit: EPA

There’s a fundamental problem with the growing gaggle of Republicans seeking to bar the federal government from bailing out Detroit.

No leaders in Washington are proposing that. And few leaders in Michigan — organized labor being the exception — want it.

Maybe it wasn’t clear when White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “The issue here of the insolvency and dealing with that is one that Detroit and Detroit’s creditors will have to resolve.”

Or when Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder added on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” “I don't view as the right answer.”

Or when Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr told Fox News, “We're out here at our post, and we have to fix it, because we dug this hole.”

To be sure, facts on the ground could change in the coming months as Detroit contemplates a fire sale of city assets.

Senate Republicans, for their part, claim they’re trying to pre-empt action by the federal government, which bailed out Michigan-based General Motors and Chrysler in 2009 to the tune of $85 billion. But a municipal bailout of Detroit would be a much more complicated affair. And decision-makers in Washington haven’t yet hinted at stepping into that uncharted territory.

Nevertheless, opposing government intervention is red meat for Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas, both of whom could face primary challenges from the right next year. And it scores political points for tea party favorites such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — “over my dead body,” he said of a bailout. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) warned in a USA Today op-ed, “American taxpayers need to watch their wallets.”

In terms of policy, the Republicans are right: Detroit has to scratch and claw its way out of this mess. But it’s hard not to cringe when lawmakers demonize a city already on its knees.

Motor City residents are a proud people for whom “Made in Detroit” still means something. I was born in the city and raised no more than 30 minutes away. My dad works downtown just blocks from my immigrant grandparents’ first house.

Perhaps Detroit’s already bad press — of the bankruptcy, of unlit streetlights, of abandoned factories, of rampant poverty — isn’t satisfactory for those who smell blood. The Motor City has brought enough shame on itself already. It doesn’t need lawmakers 500 miles away adding to it with politically driven potshots.