Obama touts auto bailout during Michigan trip

The auto industry added 55,000 jobs since employment bottomed out last summer.
By Michael D. Shear and Peter Whoriskey
Saturday, July 31, 2010

DETROIT -- The government's bailout of the American auto industry last year sparked political hand-wringing about the end of capitalism and allegations that President Obama aspired to be CEO of what critics dubbed "Government Motors."

After the president forced the firing of General Motors chief executive G. Richard Wagoner Jr., Republican Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) proclaimed Obama's actions "truly breathtaking" and said the government ownership roles at Chrysler and GM "should send a chill through all Americans who believe in free enterprise."

But a year and a half later, many of the critics have retreated from their sharpest attacks as they watch the auto industry once again turn a profit and begin adding jobs in communities such as Detroit, which desperately need them.

Obama's visit to a Chrysler plant in Detroit on Friday was designed as a victory rally -- complete with campaign-style trappings -- an "I told you so" event aimed squarely at his Republican critics who had attacked the auto bailouts as government takeovers.

A feisty Obama was welcomed with loud applause by about 1,500 auto workers inside the plant that makes the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a vehicle the president said was the first new car he ever owned. If his critics had won, he said, the plant would have been shuttered and dark.

(Obama drives a car, haltingly)

"If some folks had their way, none of this would be happening," he said, calling out the "leaders of the 'just say no crowd' in Washington" and sparking loud boos from the crowd when he added that "one of them called it the worst investment we could make."

There's no satisfying some, like radio host Rush Limbaugh, who this week referred to GM as Obama Motors. And the auto turnaround is not enough to fix places like Detroit, where 30 percent unemployment has ravaged the city like few others in the United States.

But as Obama arrived here Friday to trumpet the industry's progress, Corker refrained from saying that the bailouts were bad for the country. He says the administration's methods were "heavy-handed" but also takes credit for helping to shape the bailout. He prodded the Obama administration to force the companies to lessen their debt and achieve a more favorable union agreement.

"The ideas we laid out there were followed through," Corker said in an interview. "I take some pleasure out of helping make that contribution. . . . I think what we did is we forced a debate and we forced a hard look at these companies."

(More on the automobile industry bailout)

When it comes to critics who continue to condemn the bailout, the White House is not in a forgiving mood. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that critics such as Limbaugh were willing to forsake auto workers just at the time they needed help the most.

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