Refighting the Auto Industry Bailout Battle

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR

WASHINGTON — The recovery of the American auto industry, which repaid a significant part of its debt to the federal government on Tuesday, has sparked a political battle over who deserves credit and who deserves blame.

On the day that Chrysler wrote a check repaying $5.1 billion to the United States Treasury, President Obama and his Democratic allies claimed credit for saving a crucial industry in Michigan, a state that will be a critical battleground in the 2012 presidential election.

“Supporting the American auto industry required making some tough decisions,” Mr. Obama said in a statement, “but I was not willing to walk away from the workers at Chrysler and the communities that rely on this iconic American company.”

Democrats also sought to highlight past statements from Mr. Obama’s likely Republican rivals, who had criticized the president for a federal bailout that they said was unnecessary and wasteful.

The Democratic National Committee on Tuesday released a YouTube video highlighting a 2008 opinion article by Mitt Romney in The New York Times titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” In the video, Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, is shown asserting, “If you write a check, they are going to go out of business.”

In 2009, Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama’s plans for rescuing the automobile industry were “tragic” and “a very sad circumstance for this country.”

A Romney spokesman said on Tuesday that the president’s plan was modeled after one Mr. Romney advocated in 2008.

“Mitt Romney had the idea first,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney spokesman, citing the Times opinion article. “You have to acknowledge that. He was advocating for a course of action that eventually the Obama administration adopted.”

But Mr. Fehrnstrom also accused Mr. Obama of wasting billions of dollars “propping up” the auto companies as part of the government’s restructuring plans for the industry.

“Mitt Romney argued that instead of a bailout, we should let the car companies go through a restructuring under the bankruptcy laws,” Mr. Fehrnstrom said.

Democratic officials in Washington and Michigan responded that Mr. Fehrnstrom’s assertion flew in the face of both the time line of events and the financial reality that was facing the companies at the time.

“Mitt Romney must think that the entire country has fallen into a state of amnesia if he believes he can get away with this revisionist history,” said Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. “The record is clear. Mitt Romney would have let G.M. and Chrysler go bankrupt without extending them a dime of federal assistance.”

Democratic officials noted that Chrysler and General Motors received the federal aid only after they entered bankruptcy — not before, as Mr. Romney’s spokesman asserted.

And they said the bankruptcy’s success depended on the federal money.

“Mitt Romney is doing circuslike contortions to get out from under the damaging words he uttered in 2008,” said Jennifer M. Granholm, a former Democratic governor of Michigan.

Via The New York Times

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~ by The 1955 Hudson on May 26, 2011.

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