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Romney takes credit for auto rebound and critics howl

Christina Rogers covers VW and regulatory/legislative issues for Automotive News.
UPDATED: 5/9/12 10:37 am ET - Stabenow reaction added

DETROIT -- Mitt Romney lobbed a bomb Monday. And today he felt the political blowback.

The Republican presidential candidate who vehemently opposed the government-led bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors three years ago, went on a Cleveland TV station Monday to take credit for the auto industry's turnaround. What's more, he claims that President Obama, in sending the two failing automakers through bankruptcy, was simply doing as Romney had advocated.

Romney's exact words: "I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy, and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet. So, I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry has come back."

Yes, this is from the same guy who, in 2008, penned a caustically worded opinion piece in The New York Times to warn us that if the government intervened to rescue GM and Chrysler, "you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye."

Hmmm…let me check. The government did. And we're still here.

Romney also has decried the feds' use of taxpayer dollars to shore up the two Detroit automakers and claims private equity could have -- and would have -- stepped in to do the job. (It is a claim that another Republican, former President George W. Bush, disputes).

Romney, whose father was a former auto exec and Michigan governor, now finds himself in a tough spot. He has long campaigned that the bailouts were a mistake and the two companies should have been allowed to collapse in a traditional -- albeit managed -- bankruptcy without sucking up precious public dollars. The U.S. Treasury doled out $85 billion to save GM, Chrysler and their finance units.

But Romney's words have come back to bite him on the campaign trail, especially when it takes a turn through the Rust Belt strongholds of Michigan and Ohio. And now he has given the Democrats yet another reason to howl.

"The course Romney advocated differed greatly from the one that was ultimately taken," wrote Brad Woodhouse, the Democratic National Committee's communication director, in an e-mail to supporters, according to

"Neither Republican President George W. Bush nor Democratic President Barack Obama believed the automakers would have survived without that backup from taxpayers. Romney opposed taxpayer help."

Predictably, the UAW also felt the need to chime in. On Tuesday the union, a big Obama supporter, issued a statement pointing out that the bailouts helped GM and Chrysler return to profitability and create jobs. "None of this would have happened if Romney had been the one making decisions," the UAW said.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had this to say in response to Romney’s claims: "I was in the middle of the fight to save our American auto industry jobs and I can assure you, Mitt Romney was of no help when we needed it.”

Sure enough, Romney got a chance to fire back on Tuesday during a speech in Lansing, Mich., where he made claims that his economic policies would help "usher in a revival of American manufacturing," according to The Detroit News.

But instead of firing back, he stayed mum on the topic of bailouts and the auto industry. His only auto reference: GM's decision in 2000 to ax the Oldsmobile brand, which had strong ties to Lansing, the newspaper reported.

Of course, that happened long before the auto bailouts, not to mention any danger of political fallout.

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