Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney… (Jae C. Hong / AP Photo )
LANSING, MICH. -- Campaigning down the road from a GM plant, Mitt Romney made no mention Tuesday of the federal auto bailout that he opposed and that many credit with saving that company and Chrysler.
Instead, his only remarks about cars were lamenting the demise of Oldsmobile, which had been headquartered in Lansing.
“It was a fine car and a source of pride for the city. It was also a source of a lot of good-paying jobs,” he said. “These last few years have been hard on the people of Lansing, and they have been hard on the people of America. In the Obama economy, some of the hardest hit have been those in the middle class.”
GM announced that they were discontinuing the Oldsmobile brand in 2000 and the last car rolled off the assembly line in 2004.
The automobile industry and the bailout represent a tricky matter for Romney in Michigan, where he grew up and where his father, the late Michigan Gov. George Romney, once led an auto company. Voters here support the bailout, and even GOP voters are split over it.
The candidate raised eyebrows a day earlier when he said he planned to take credit for the auto industry’s recovery in an interview with an Ohio television station.
“I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry's come back," Romney said Monday on WEWS-TV in Cleveland, arguing that his call for the companies to go through a managed bankruptcy is eventually the path the president took.
"My own view is that the auto companies needed to go through bankruptcy before government help," Romney said. "And frankly, that's finally what the president did. He finally took them through bankruptcy."
Given Romney’s opposition to the $80-billion federal loans to GM and Chrysler, Democrats seized on those remarks.
During a call organized by President Obama’s campaign, United Auto Workers President Bob King described Romney remarks as “absurd” and accused him of trying to revise history.
“What Romney suggests is that car companies should have used private financing to restructure and that never could have or would have happened,” King told reporters during a conference call. “It’s disingenuous for him to argue that he called for a managed bankruptcy and claim that is exactly what ended up happening when it didn’t.”
In late 2008 and early 2009, King said, the credit markets were “frozen solid” and there was no private financing or debtor in possession financing available.
“Without government financing behind the auto companies, it would have simply led to a Chapter 7 liquidation,” King said. “There’s not a single reputable financial expert or bankruptcy expert that will say any differently about what was going on during that time.”
King credited the Bush administration for understanding the problem and giving GM and Chrysler a bridge loan in December 2008.
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland argued that it was “incredible” that Romney wanted to take credit for the auto industry’s resurgence. “The conversation that we are having in this country right now is about who we are going to elect to lead the country, who we trust, who we can count on, who has our backs,” he said, adding that Romney comments on the auto industry should raise questions about his character.
“Mitt Romney is the last person who can talk about the auto industry with any credibility,” King said. “Mitt Romney cannot have it both ways, saying he was for managed bankruptcy without the funding source is like saying he was for medical treatment without any medicine.”
Romney was introduced at the Lansing event by Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who has said the bailout was necessary to save the industry. The men made no mention of the issue at the event Tuesday at Lansing Community College.
Across the street, protestors held a banner that said “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” the headline of a 2008 editorial Romney penned for the New York Times where he argued that the auto bailouts would lead to the eventual demise of the industry, and that the federal government should rather offer loan guarantees once the companies went through a managed bankruptcy.