Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 02/14/2012

Mitt Romney, defending bailout position, says he’d be a ‘Detroiter in the White House’

DETROIT--The U.S. Government should sell its remaining shares of GM, divesting itself of the ownership interest taken in the company as part of the 2009 bailout of the auto industry, Mitt Romney argues in a new Detroit News op-ed designed to blunt criticism of his opposition to the bailout in the car-producing state where his poll numbers have been sagging.

It is the first time Romney has argued the government should end its
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. (BRIAN SNYDER - REUTERS)
GM ownership, selling its remaining shares of the company and giving taxpayers the proceeds.

In the column, the Republican presidential hopeful argues that the bailout has, in fact, resulted in the kind of managed bankruptcy for Detroit’s automakers that he was pushing for in a 2008 New York Times column entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

But he tries to take the sting out of that tough headline by citing his strong personal connection to the Motor City and his deep personal desire to see the American car industry survive.

And Romney argues the auto bailout, as managed by President Obama, has rewarded union bosses at the expense of other auto industry creditors and non-union workers.

“While a lot of workers and investors got the short end of the stick, Obama’s union allies — and his major campaign contributors — reaped reward upon reward, all on the taxpayer’s dime,” the former Massachusetts governor writes.

“American taxpayers have been left on the hook for billions to benefit unions and the union bosses who contributed millions to Barack Obama’s election campaign,” he continues. “Such a state of affairs is intolerable, and as president I would not tolerate it. The Obama administration needs to act now to divest itself of its ownership position
Downtown Detroit. (Creative Commons licensed photo from James Marvin Phelps on Flickr. )
in GM.”

Following an $80 billion infusion of loans and other assistance to GM and Chrysler engineered under both the Bush and Obama administrations, an ownership interest in GM was given to a trust fund created to help fund medical obligations to United Auto Worker retirees.

Romney’s position is nuanced and attempts to thread a difficult needle. He contends that he was right to oppose the bailout—which in the 2008 column he’d argued would mean the industry’s “demise [would] be virtually guaranteed”—even though it resulted in the policy he says he was advocating at the time, a managed bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler.

And he also chides President Obama for mishandling the bailout even as he celebrates the renewed strength the car industry has found since it took place.

“The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better,” Romney writes.

The Obama campaign believes Romney’s opposition to the bailout, and especially the callousness with which many in Detroit believe he expressed those views, is a significant weakness in the swing state.

But Romney works to blunt that attack in the Detroit News piece by laying his strongest claim yet to his own Michigan roots. He was born in the state, where his father served as president of American Motors and then governor.

“I am a son of Detroit. I was born in Harper Hospital and lived in the city until my family moved to Oakland County,” Romney begins, going on to say that “cars got in my bones early.”

Romney hopes to use his personal biography not just to contest Democratic claims that he did not care about Detroit’s success but also to fend off a growing challenge in the state from Republican challenger, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

Romney concludes that the early giants of the American car industry “never envisioned a role for government in their business, but relied on the hard work and commitment of private individuals.”

“Their dream is alive in all of us who have ever called Detroit home. And with a Detroiter in the White House, that dream can be realized once again,” he writes.

By  |  09:00 AM ET, 02/14/2012

 
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