The Auto Bailout Gets The Spotlight As Republicans, Democrats Spar

About midway through Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate in Mesa, Arizona, moderator John King of CNN turned to a topic that’s front and center in the Michigan primary: the auto bailout.

It momentarily turned into a free for all between Michigan’s native son, Mitt Romney, and Pennsylvania’s former U.S. senator, Rick Santorum, over what kind of help the federal government should have given the auto companies. You can read and see CNN’s coverage here.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama’s campaign jumped into the fray with a new television ad that began airing in Michigan, which holds its primary next Tuesday.

The ad, called Made in America, contends Republicans turned their back on the industry in 2008 and 2009, when the automakers went to Washington for federal assistance.

And, the campaign has a point. None of the Republican candidates supported the direct bailout of General Motors and Ford. And, Republicans in the Senate opposed legislation that would have provided Congressional assistance.

But Romney was the most vocal at the time, writing a now-famous op-ed in the New York Times in 2008 entitled, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” and his answers have received the most scrutiny.

The new Obama campaign ad references that op-ed, and declares, “Now, a new, restructured industry is back because of the grit and sacrifice of Michigan workers.” It concludes: “Don’t bet against the American worker.”

As he explained Wednesday night, he felt the car companies should have gone through a “managed bankruptcy” or a more-conventional bankruptcy that would have been financed by banks, not the Treasury Department.

Banks, however, received their own bailout, and were not inclined to lend to the car companies. Plus, conventional bankruptcies could have taken years, not the quick trips that GM and Chrysler experienced.

United Auto Workers members are preparing to demonstrate on Friday, when Romney makes his highest-profile appearance ahead of the primary, a speech to the Economic Club of Detroit at Ford Field.

I talked about the Michigan race with Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour on Wednesday night. You can watch our interview here.

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