Romney defends opposition to auto bailout with op-ed courting Michigan voters
UPDATED 12:15 p.m. ET
White House hopeful Mitt Romney wants Michiganders to know he is one of them -- even though he opposed the bailout of the dominant car industry that was started by President George W. Bush and continued by President Obama.
In an opinion piece in the Detroit News two weeks ahead of the February 28 primary, Romney focused heavily on his Michigan roots.
"I am a son of Detroit. I was born in Harper Hospital and lived in the city until my family moved to Oakland County," Romney said in the opening line of his piece, which also touted his father' role as the head of American Motors and his own life drinking the popular Detroit creation: Vernors ginger ale.
He sought to evoke the golden years of American car manufacturing, name-dropping industry legends Henry Ford, Walter Chrysler and GM founder William Durant, calling them "giants" who "never envisioned a role for government in their business, but relied on the hard work and commitment of private individuals."
"Their dream is alive in all of us who have ever called Detroit home. And with a Detroiter in the White House, that dream can be realized once again," the former governor of Massachusetts wrote.
The piece comes as Romney is waging a tough fight in Michigan against former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has a six point lead over Romney in one Michigan poll and a 15 point lead in another.
The presidential candidate famously opposed the bailout in a 2008 opinion piece in the New York Times, writing "you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye" if GM, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout their chief executives were seeking in late 2008.
GM and Chrysler and their suppliers, dealers and auto financing firms have taken around $80 billion in government aid in bailouts started in late 2008 by President George W. Bush and continued by President Obama.
While Romney has been very critical of the bailout, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama have defended their efforts to prevent the U.S. economy from falling into another depression. Mr. Bush earlier this month told the nation's auto dealers he would "do it again" because he did not want to see "21 percent unemployment" in the United States. Some analysts have said the bailout saved the jobs of more than a million workers because of the interconnectedness the auto industry.
Romney called the bailout "crony capitalism on a grand scale" in his op-ed today, noting that Obama donor and financier, Steven Rattner, was placed in charge of the administration's effort. Rattner in late 2010 agreed to pay $6.2 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle charges of influence peddling related to the New York state pension fund.
"The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better," Romney said
And he thinks the companies should now return their profits to the Treasury Department.
"American taxpayers have been left on the hook for billions to benefit unions and the union bosses who contributed millions to Barack Obama's election campaign. Such a state of affairs is intolerable, and as president I would not tolerate it. The Obama administration needs to act now to divest itself of its ownership position in GM," Romney wrote.
"The shares need to be sold in a responsible fashion and the proceeds turned over to the nation's taxpayers," he said.
The U.S. owns about 500 million shares in GM, or about a third of the reconstituted company after it emerged from bankruptcy. Shares were trading around $25.34 Tuesday afternoon. For taxpayers to break even, shares would have to climb to about $53 per share.
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