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Biden touts resurgent auto industry

May 28, 2011|By Peter Nicholas, Washington Bureau
(Elise Amendola, AP )

Reporting from Washington — Filling in for his boss, Vice President Joe Biden devoted  a weekly radio address to what the White House sees as a winning issue: the post-bailout revival of the auto industry.

Chrysler paid back a total of $7.6 billion in loans this week from the U.S. and Canadian governments, a sign of financial solvency that the White House sees as a validation of the industry bailout.

Biden also cited the announcement that General Motors is now running three full shifts at a Michigan factory, adding 2,500 new jobs. Overall, GM posted a profit of $3.2 billion in the first quarter, the highest in a decade.

"Not only is our economy overall growing, but one of the important sectors of our economy is on the rise again: the American automobile industry," Biden said in the Saturday address.

He added: "When President Obama and I came into office, we faced an auto industry on the brink of extinction. Total collapse.  At the time, many people thought the president should just let GM and Chrysler go under. They didn’t think the automobile industry was essential to America’s future. The President disagreed."

Obama usually delivers the weekly address. But with the president finishing up a weeklong trip to Europe, Biden stood in.

In a counterpoint, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) delivered a Republican address that gave the party’s  prescription for reducing deficits and creating jobs. He called for tax and spending cuts and reduced regulation, among other measures.

"Do we want a future with more taxes and more government? Or do we want to see more growth and more jobs?" Cantor said.

Wall Street and auto bailouts, coupled with the $787 billion stimulus package, proved a huge source of public anxiety in the last few years.  So the White House is eager to highlight investments that pay off. Next week, Obama will travel to a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio where he is expected to tout the company’s early repayment of the government loan.

On Tuesday, the day the Chrysler repayment was announced, the Democratic National Committee released a video commending Obama for making a "tough choice" in granting "American automakers a lifesaving loan." The video carried TV footage of various 2012 Republican presidential candidates voicing skepticism about the bailouts.

With the nation’s unemployment rate at 9%, the White House can’t afford to sound as if the economic recovery is complete. Biden’s address was a bit of a balancing act. After asserting that the economy is "gaining traction," Biden went on to say that "even for a lot of people with jobs, their wages aren’t keeping pace with the prices of everything from gas to groceries to healthcare and college tuition."

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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