General Motors, the venerable American auto manufacturer which fell into bankruptcy and received substantial support from the US government, filed the initial papers for an IPO today, which will begin the process of allowing the Treasury Department to recoup some of its investment.

In the filing, G.M. did not disclose the number of shares that it planned to sell or a price range, but the offering has the potential to be the second largest in United States history, after the credit card giant Visa, which raised more than $19 billion in March 2008 [...]

The registration also did not disclose how much of a stake that the government would sell immediately, but it said taxpayers would “continue to own a substantial interest in us following this offering.” People briefed on the matter said last week that the Treasury was expected to sell about a fifth of its shares, bringing the taxpayers’ stake in G.M. below 50 percent.

The Treasury Department, in a statement on Wednesday, said it “will retain the right, at all times, to decide whether and at what level to participate in the offering.” The Treasury said the offering would not include $2.1 billion in preferred G.M. shares that it owns, which are in addition to the common shares representing a 61 percent stake.

The rescue of the auto industry, particularly GM, has been one of the highlights of the Obama Administration’s domestic policy. This intervention saved over a million manufacturing and support jobs, and even increased them at the margins, as GM hired a few new factory workers (though not very much compared to their profit margins in the last two quarters of 2010). With the IPO increasing their cash flow, hopefully the automaker will decide that they’re stable enough to start hiring again in bulk.