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Santorum says his position on auto bailout more consistent than Romney’s

at 02:57 PM ET, 02/16/2012

This post has been updated.

DETROIT — Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum said Thursday that his opposition to the federal bailout of the auto industry offered a more consistent and conservative position than that of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.


Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum speaks during a Detroit Economic Club luncheon in Detroit, Thursday. (Paul Sancya - Associated Press)

Speaking at a luncheon of the Detroit Economic Club in the key battleground state of Michigan, where the candidates position on federal aide to GM and Chrysler is being closely scrutinized, Santorum noted that he had opposed not just billions spent to help the auto industry — but also the 2008 bailout of financial firms on Wall Street.

“Gov. Romney supported the bailout of Wall Street and decided not to support the bailout of Detroit. My feeling was that government should not be involved in bailouts period. I think that’s a much more consistent position,” Santorum said.

Romney, by contrast, had backed the Troubled Asset Relief Program but then argued in a 2008 New York Times editorial that Washington should “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” Now, Romney argues that the bailout led to the structured bankruptcy he’d been urging but that it’s been mismanaged by President Obama.

The Romney camp fired back at Santorum Thursday afternoon.

“It’s no surprise that Sen. Santorum, in a typical politician’s fashion, conveniently leaves out that he once said he didn’t think TARP ‘was an unreasonable decision,’” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “We are still waiting on answers about many of Sen. Santorum’s votes in Congress including his vote for Sonia Sotomayor, five votes to raise the debt ceiling without corresponding spending cuts and his vote opposing Right-to-work legislation. Sen. Santorum went to Washington and never left – in word and in deed,” she said.

Santorum argued the Wall Street bailout led corporate America to assume the government would rescue all who were in trouble and avoid taking steps necessary to stabilize the economy. He said he blamed President Bush as much as President Obama for setting the precedent.

“If we had just stayed out of it completely, and let the market work, I believe the market would have worked,” Santorum said. “Would the auto industry look differently than it does today? Yes it would be. Would it still be alive and well? I think it will be alive and equally as well if not better.

Santorum and Romney are both in Michigan Thursday, battling for votes in what has become a critical contest in the presidential nominating battle. Santorum spoke in a ballroom at a downtown convention center to several hundred Detroit business executives. Romney will address the same crowd next week.

Santorum also said the difference between his economic plan and Romney’s is that his own plan — with a proposal to eliminate the corporate tax rate for manufacturers — is that his own is aimed at improving the economic conditions for all Americans.

“We have a president who says he supports the Occupyers, who divide America between the 99 and 1. Another candidate in this race who suggested he didn’t care about the very poor. He cared about the 95 percent. How about a candidate who cares about 100 percent? A candidate who cares about everyone and gives them the opportunity to rise in society,” he said.

Santorum is working to appeal to blue collar workers in Michigan, arguing that he understands their problems better than Romney, since he is the grandson of a coal miner and formerly an elected official of a state that, like Michigan, has been hit hard by manufacturing job losses in recent decades. Polls show Santorum is now leading Romney in Romney’s native Michigan.

“Folks, we as Republicans, we as conservatives, we can’t go out there and say just cut spending, cut taxes and everybody’s going to be fine. First off economically everybody isn’t going to be fine. We’ve got to create an economy where all people can rise. And we’ve also to create a culture that’s consistent with the values of our country.

But records released late Wednesday by Santorum showed he is hardly living a hard scrabble life these days. They showed his income grew from $660,00 in 2007 to $1.1 million in 2009. Still, he paid about 28 percent a year in taxes — far higher than Romney’s tax rate.

“Look, I do my own taxes. Heck, Romney paid half the tax rate I did, so obviously he doesn’t do his own taxes. Maybe I should hire an accountant in the future,”Santorum joked to the Detroit crowd.

And, in a comment that could draw attention from Democrats and others, Santorum said he supported income inequality in the United States.

“President Obama is all about equality of results. I’m about equality of opportunity. I’m not about equality of result when it comes to income inequality. There is income inequality in America,” he said.

“There always has been and hopefully — and I do say that — there always will be. Why? Because people rise to different levels of success based on what they contribute to society and to the marketplace and that’s as it should be,” he said.

Santorum also said he believes private sector unions as the kind of community organization that ties society together and helps people avoid the need for government assistance, like churches and charities. But he said he also supports right to work laws that prevent workers from being required to join a union to get a job.

But he said public sector unions are in an “ intrinsically unfair bargaining position because the people sitting across the table from them, unlike the business person who has shareholders, or themselves who have money on the line, or both, the public employee unions are sitting across from someone who it’s not their money.”

After the speech, John Stencel III, the president of a machinery sales company from Warren, Michigan, said he’s decided to back Santorum in the Feb. 28 primary. He said he likes Romney too — but believes Santorum would be better for a manufacturing sector in desperate need of a boost.

“He might not be as polished as Romney, but I feel more comfortable with him. He’s grounded and more conservative. He’s refreshing,” Stencil said. “I’ve seen so many plants go down, so many families out of work. Rick has really hit a soft spot with me on manufacturing.”

 
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