Auto bailout, energy hot topics in presidential debate
Photo credit: Bloomberg
President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney for several months have been separately discussing the benefits and liabilities of the auto bailout, but on Tuesday night they got to argue about it face-to-face.
And with the bailout being a key issue in swing states Ohio and Michigan, it took about a minute into the town hall debate for President Obama to go on the attack when asked by a college student about unemployment.
"No. 1, I want to build manufacturing jobs in this country again. Now when Gov. Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said we're going to bet on American workers and the American auto industry and it's come surging back," Obama said.
The president also didn't take long to bring up his energy position.
"We've got to make sure we're building the energy source of the future, not just thinking about next year, but ten years from now, 20 years from now," he said. "That's why we've invested in solar and wind and biofuels, energy efficient cars."
The Obama administration has invested $5 billion in electric cars for loans and grants to car and battery producers, charging stations, and $7,500 tax credits to car buyers. Recipients include Nissan Motor Co., Fisker Automotive Inc., Tesla Motors Corp, and A123 Systems Inc., the battery maker that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Tuesday several hours before the debate.
Republicans have criticized Obama for using taxpayer money on troubled companies such as Fisker and A123. As a result, the A123 bankruptcy made national headlines for much of the day on Tuesday.
In his response on the bailout question, Romney defended his 2008 New York Times editorial entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," and said the president actually took his advice to let Detroit go bankrupt.
"He said that I said we should take Detroit bankrupt. And that's right," Romney said. "My plan was to have the company go through bankruptcy...and come out stronger. And I know he keeps saying, you want to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt.
"So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did. And I think it's important to know that that was a process that was necessary to get those companies back on their feet, so they could start hiring more people. That was precisely what I recommended and ultimately what happened."
Obama said Romney's suggestion was different than what he did.
"He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open. And we would have lost a million jobs. And that -- don't take my word for it, take the executives at GM and Chrysler, some of whom are Republicans, may even support Governor Romney. But they'll tell you his prescription wasn't going to work," he said.
Romney muttered "that Detroit answer" under his breath twice before the candidates were moved onto the next question: should lowering gas prices be the Energy Department's job?
Obama made the point several times about the importance of the nation controlling its own energy.
The president said under his administration, oil production has increased to the highest levels in 16 years, natural gas production is the highest it's been in decades, and there have been increases in coal production and coal employment.
"But what I've also said is we can't just produce traditional source of energy. We've also got to look to the future," Obama said. "That's why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you're going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas."
"And the proof is our oil imports are down to the lowest levels in 20 years. Oil production is up, natural gas production is up, and, most importantly, we're also starting to build cars that are more efficient," Obama said. "And that's creating jobs. That means those cars can be exported, 'cause that's the demand around the world, and it also means that it'll save money in your pocketbook."
Romney challenged Obama on where oil is being produced in the U.S.
"And the president's right in terms of the additional oil production, but none of it came on federal land. As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands, and in federal waters.
"So where'd the increase come from? Well a lot of it came from the Bakken Range in North Dakota. What was his participation there? The administration brought a criminal action against the people drilling up there for oil, this massive new resource we have. And what was the cost? 20 or 25 birds were killed and brought out a migratory bird act to go after them on a criminal basis."
When pressed on the increase in gas prices, Obama said gas prices were around $1.80 when he took office because the economy was on the verge of collapse as a consequence of some of the same policies Romney is now promoting.
"So, it's conceivable that Gov. Romney could bring down gas prices because with his policies, we might be back in that same mess," Obama said.
Romney also criticized Obama for blocking the Keystone oil pipeline.