Yesterday on Face the Nation, CBS’s Bob Schieffer asked President Barack Obama:

Mr. President, you’re scheduled to announce on Monday what you plan to do with the auto industry as they’re asking for more federal money. … You’ve told them they’re gonna have to cut back, present a different business plan. Our sources tell us that as far as the White House is concerned, they’re not there yet. Do they have to do more in order to get this money?

President Obama replied: “Yes. They’re not quite there yet. … We think we can have a successful U.S. auto industry. But it’s got to be one that’s realistically designed to weather this storm … And that’s gonna mean a set of sacrifices from all parties involved.” By the end of the day we had a better idea on how involved the Obama Administration was going to be in deciding who sacrificed what, learning on Sunday night that in return for more government aid, Obama had forced General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner to resign.

This adds a new and troubling dimension to Obama’s summoning of 13 chief executives of the nation’s largest financial institutions to the White House this past Friday. Asked about that meeting on Sunday, Obama replied:

I said to those folks, let me help you – help me help you. It’s very difficult for me as president to call on the American people to make sacrifices to help shore up the financial system if there’s no sense of mutual obligation and mutual help.

Translation: play ball with my government or it’s your head. The bankers got the message. The New York Times headline read: “Bankers Pledge Cooperation With Obama.

Such is the sorry state of free enterprise in our country: the president can summon the heads of private companies to the White House and demand fealty to his public policy agenda. The common evil in all of this is the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Originally sold to the American people as an acutely targeted program to rid the financial sector of toxic mortgage assets, the Troubled Asset Relief Program quickly lost all coherence and eventually became a slush fund for White House political prerogatives.

It is far past time for the U.S. Congress to reign in an out of control executive branch and end the TARP program.

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