Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

April 1, 2014

GM, safety agency face Congress over recalls

DETROIT (AP) — If GM knew it had a problem, why wasn’t something done to fix it?

Congress will seek the answer to that question and others this week as it presses General Motors CEO Mary Barra and federal regulators about their handling of a safety defect in the Chevrolet Cobalt and other small cars. GM has recalled 2.6 million cars for a faulty ignition switch, which it links to 13 deaths.

The hearings — before a House subcommittee today and a Senate subcommittee Wednesday — will likely be tense and emotional. At least a dozen family members of victims will attend, wearing blue shirts featuring a photo of 16-year-old Amber Marie Rose, who was killed in a 2005 Cobalt crash, and the words “Protect Our Children.” Barra will surely apologize, as she has before, for the loss of life.

Barra may try to limit her answers to Congress, citing an ongoing internal review and government investigations. For his part, David Friedman, the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, may try to shift blame from his agency to GM, saying the company withheld information. Either approach could annoy committee members, who will want to know why the system failed and ensure consumers that they’re adequately protected no matter what car they drive.

In particular, Congress wants to know if it needs to strengthen a 2000 law intended to improve communication between automakers and the government. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and announced the first hearing, wrote the law. Upton’s district, 185 miles west of Detroit, is far from any GM plants, but he has received $5,000 in campaign donations from the automaker in this election cycle, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Here are some questions lawmakers are likely to ask Barra and Friedman, and why:

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