Clinton: Bailout is Obama’s triumph

March 2, 2012
Clinton: Bailout is Obama’s triumph
At UAW meeting, former president blasts Romney stance
By DAVID SHEPARDSON / Detroit News Washington Bureau
Washington— President Barack Obama’s rescue of the U.S. auto industry is the crowning achievement of his first term — even topping landmark health care reform, former President Bill Clinton told UAW workers Thursday.

The ex-president’s assessment underscores the strategy of the White House, its friends and surrogates to make the $85 billion bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, and the jobs it preserved, a linchpin of the Obama re-election effort.

It’s a campaign message that has been building momentum for more than a year: Obama made an unpopular decision that proved to be the right decision.

“I happen to think this auto industry package is the most important thing that was initiated by President Obama and the administration. I am glad they passed health care — that was just a question of waiting until we had 60 votes,” Clinton told United Auto Workers activists meeting in the capital.

“(The auto bailout) did not have to happen. The president could have walked away from this.”

The former president took Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to task for opposing the bailout.

“Every time I hear Mr. Romney talking about this, I think his daddy must be turning over in his grave,” Clinton said of Romney’s late father, George, who was a three-term governor of Michigan and chief executive at American Motors. “We could not afford to lose a million and a half to 2 million jobs.”

Romney, a Detroit native, has repeatedly said the auto bailout was a bad idea — and that the companies should have gone into bankruptcy before receiving government assistance. But he has insisted he would not have allowed the auto industry to collapse.

“It speaks volumes that President Obama has to deploy a former president to distract from his abysmal record of failure. The only way for Michigan to realize its tremendous economic potential is to defeat President Obama, and Mitt Romney is the only candidate that can do that,” said Amanda Henneberg, a Romney spokeswoman.

Obama made ‘tough calls’
Clinton was just the most recent Democrat to weigh in for Obama on the auto industry rescue. The president himself laid claim to the theme before the same UAW group Tuesday.

“I did run to make the tough calls and do the right things — no matter what the politics were,” Obama said.

In nearly every speech, the president touts the success of GM and Chrysler and his decision to help save hundreds of thousands of jobs. He’s visited a half-dozen auto plants since taking office, and even promised to buy a Chevrolet Volt when he leaves the White House.

Just last week, Vice President Joe Biden summed up the Democratic ticket’s re-election strategy in a speech in New Hampshire: “Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”

Obama’s strategy is not without risk. Three years ago, 7 in 10 Americans opposed a government bailout; a new poll out last week showed that opposition declining, to about half. Importantly, the independent voting bloc that both parties seek is about 50-50 on the issue.

“The real question is not about Michigan. It is the message going to work in the rest of the country,” said Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, who noted that the auto bailout has polled strongly in Michigan and has helped Obama to a substantial lead over Romney in Michigan.

He said Democrats have had success “in painting Romney as callous and not carrying about the auto industry.”

Success — and losses
Detroit’s Big Three automakers all reported profits in 2011 and are gaining market share and adding new workers and shifts. GM regained the top spot as the world’s largest automaker in 2011.

Still, the Treasury has estimated the government will lose $23.77 billion on its auto bailout.

Clinton said he believes taxpayers will recoup their entire $49.5 billion GM rescue, if Congress doesn’t force the Treasury to quickly sell its remaining stock in the automaker.

The Treasury needs to get $53 a share for its 500 million shares — a 26.5 percent stake in the Detroit automaker. GM is trading around $26.50 a share. The government booked a $1.3 billion loss on its $12.5 billion bailout of Chrysler.

Romney has called on the White House to immediately sell its GM stock — and its majority stake in Ally Financial Inc., the Detroit-based mortgage and auto lender.

Clinton rejected Republicans’ suggestion that the Obama administration agreed to bail out GM and Chrysler as a favor to the UAW.

“What was the alternative? Abolish all pensions and ask you to work for the minimum wage?” Clinton asked.

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