PHILIP NUSSEL

How Romney could attack Obama's auto bailout

Philip Nussel is managing editor of autonews.com.Philip Nussel is managing editor of autonews.com.
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Most voters know that Republican presidential challenger and Michigan native Mitt Romney is a businessman with a lifetime connection to the auto industry. His dad was CEO of the former American Motors Corp. and governor of Michigan.

So one must wonder why he continues to make factually inaccurate statements about the Bush-Obama auto industry bailout of 2008-09.

During last night's debate he renewed his faulty logic that President Obama (and presumably Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush) followed Romney's "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" philosophy during the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler. The president again corrected Romney by reminding him that Romney's plan essentially would have resulted in GM and Chrysler going out of business. That's because no private financing was available at that time to keep the two automakers in business. That's a fact.

But for Romney and Republicans, there are plenty of other ways to attack Obama's execution of the bailout, for instance:

• Hundreds of longtime GM and Chrysler dealers were put out of business for no good reason and Obama and his car czar Steve Rattner could have stopped it. These were Main Street USA businesses whacked because of the belief that the automakers were overdealered and needed to radically streamline their retail networks.

• The UAW wasn't asked to make enough concessions. Rattner has said this himself. "If we had more time, we might have asked all the stakeholders to sacrifice a little bit more," Rattner said in December 2011, according to a Reuters account.

• Romney could further bring up the plight of salaried retirees at GM's former parts subsidiary, Delphi Corp., who with the stroke of a pen in the middle of the bailouts lost their pensions while Delphi's UAW pensioners were made whole.

• And this will never happen, but Romney should praise the Bush administration for initiating the bailouts before Obama took office. Nobody seems to remember that GM and Chrysler probably would not have made their payrolls in the weeks before Obama took office unless the Bush administration had approved total bailout financing of $17.4 billion.

In the end, Obama's bailout never would have happened without Bush, the capitalist Republican, keeping GM and Chrysler alive with government money beforehand.

Romney should remind everyone of that, but he won't because he wanted to Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.

You can reach Philip Nussel at pnussel@crain.com.

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