Ford, GM CEOs to attend business roundtable at White House

Washington — Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley and General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra will attend a business roundtable Wednesday at the White House to promote President Joe Biden's Build Back Better package. 

Farley and Barra will join the CEOs of Microsoft, HP, Siemens, Salesforce and other companies to discuss how the proposed package "will make the U.S. economy more competitive, increase worker productivity and workforce participation, lower inflation over the long-term, and strengthen business growth," according to a White House advisory obtained by The Detroit News. 

Biden, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy and other top White House officials will also attend the meeting. 

The $1.75 trillion social safety net and climate bill would have enacted the rest of Biden's agenda after Congress passed his $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package last year. But after weeks of negotiations, centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said last month he could no longer support the package. 

Its left Democrats scrambling to determine what, if anything, they can salvage and pass through smaller bills before they possibly lose their majority at the end of the year. 

Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Jim Farley.

Farley said he plans to discuss the need to pass expanded electric vehicle tax credits, a controversial proposal authored by Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

The bill, included in Build Back Better, would would lift the 200,000 vehicle per manufacturer cap and implement $7,500 point-of-sale consumer rebates for electric vehicles. It would pay out an additional $4,500 for vehicles assembled in a union facility and $500 for vehicles using a battery manufactured in the U.S.

For the next five years after that, the $7,500 base credit would only apply to electric vehicles made in the U.S.

"We feel very strongly, as the No. 1 employer (in the U.S. auto sector), that we don't want to fall behind as a country, and we are falling behind as a country in electric adoption. That drives intellectual property to the U.S., and battery plants and new jobs, and green jobs," Farley said Tuesday. 

"So, this is a big thing. If they don't get across the line, either in this legislation or some other form, we are very concerned about the competitiveness of the country. ... We want to make sure our home market moves on EVs."

General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra.

Barra, too, expects to attend the meeting in person in Washington. 

"General Motors is grateful for the opportunity to join the discussion," spokesperson Jeannine Ginivan said in a statement. "The meeting is a good opportunity to reinforce GM’s policy priorities particularly as it relates to electric vehicles and building out our US supply chain as we continue to move towards an all-electric future."

Foreign automakers have been vocal opponents to the existing EV tax credit proposal, which they argue unfairly penalizes American workers who don't choose to join a union. The Detroit Three are the only automakers in the U.S. with workforces organized by the United Auto Workers union.

Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia is home to a Toyota Motor Corp. engine and transmission plants, said in November that he also opposes the credits because they would "pick winners and losers" in the emerging EV market. 

His opposition marked a potentially fatal blow to the proposal, which cannot pass through the evenly-divided Senate without all 50 Democrats on board or with some Republican support. 

Fourteen Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee sent a "Dear Colleague" letter Tuesday expressing their opposition to the proposal, arguing among other things that it would undermine U.S. trade interests as Mexico, Canada and European Union trading partners have said it violates trade agreements. 

Stabenow has been negotiating the provision with Manchin and told The Detroit News on Tuesday that Democrats are "definitely going to have to reconfigure the credit in order to be able to get the votes to pass it."

For months, she and Kildee have been adamant that the collective bargaining provisions are necessary to ensure workers keep good wages and benefits in the transition to electric vehicles, which labor advocates have said may endanger some jobs as EVs require fewer parts and people to assemble and maintain. 

Farley told The News on Tuesday he would "prefer" that the union provision remains in the proposal. "But generally speaking, at a competitiveness level of the country, just having enough incentives to help the customer make the economic decision to transition to electric is probably the bigger, more important priority."

The Build Back Better bill also includes several other provisions from Michigan members that would affect the U.S. auto industry. 

A provision from Stabenow that would give manufacturers a 30% tax credit for building or retooling factories to produce clean energy products and set aside $4 billion over a decade for communities that have “experienced major job losses” in the auto industry since 1994.

Kildee fought for $1.2 billion in assistance for cities that have been hurt by trade, which his office says would benefit at least Bay City, Saginaw, Dearborn, Flint and Detroit.

Legislation pushed by Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, would put nearly $6 billion toward electrifying the U.S. Postal Service fleet. Peters also worked to include funding for programs supporting small and mid-sized manufacturers and technology R&D and to allocate $5 billion to increase supply chain resiliency. 

Staff writer Craig Mauger contributed.

Twitter: @rbeggin