Friendly competition?

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood testified on Capitol Hill on Wednesday before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation. LaHood told the subcommittee that owners of recalled Toyotas should stop driving the vehicles and get them fixed.

Imagine what it would be like if a chief competitor of your business also had regulatory power over you -- and the national media access that goes with it.

That's the position Toyota finds itself in today, as the federal government -- a principal owner of GM -- investigates Toyota over problems with stuck accelerators and faulty brakes in various models and years.

We don't know if the union-friendly, GM-owning Obama administration purposely exploited Toyota's problems -- but how reckless was it of federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tell a House subcommittee recently, "My advice is, if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it"?

Toyota's stock plummeted on the statement, which LaHood later recanted.

Certainly Toyota's problems are real, and of its own doing. Thus far, nearly 8 million Toyotas have been recalled worldwide. But LaHood's statement was irresponsible, by his own admission, and only made matters worse.

Maybe congressional hearings need to come with Hot Airbags that deploy at the first sign of stupidity. Does this administration not have any respect for the effect their utterings have on things? President Obama also recently got into hot water again for dissing Las Vegas -- which prompted the mayor to pull up the president's welcome mat.

Making LaHood's statement all the more thorny is the administration's obvious conflict of interest: It is now the majority owner of Toyota competitor GM.

Competitors should not also be regulators.

White House Deputy Spokesman Bill Burton was asked if LaHood's statement was reflective of that conflict of interest. Burton said it was not.

We'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Surely the administration's first and only priority in the matter is safety. But as long as the government is a stakeholder in a car company, its regulation of other car companies is problematic and will raise these kinds of questions.

The car industry, Burton said, is "something the president never wanted to get involved in."

So maybe he should get out of it.

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