Wake-up call:

General Motors and the United Automobile Workers union have both been under enormous pressure to stand tough in their negotiations. It is encouraging that both sides are reportedly making good progress in hammering out a new national contract. They must come together if they are to salvage their futures and resolve the huge underlying issues that threaten Detroit’s big automakers. As negotiations between the UAW and the auto companies continue, the automakers and their workers need to remain focused on how to regain a competitive edge against their rivals from Asia. Meanwhile, the US government must urgently deal with the mushrooming health-insurance burden that puts many US companies at a competitive disadvantage.

Steadily losing market share and trying to recover from losses of more than $12 billion in the last two years, GM wants to be rid of the $50 billion liability of the health care benefits it promised its retired workers. However, nothing long term can happen without Washington. The Bush administration, Congress and presidential candidates should view Detroit’s troubles as a wake-up call. It is time for them to start grappling with the swelling cost of health care — the one issue that seems not to be on the table when the political talk turns to health-insurance reform.