Republican candidates condemn auto bailout

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participates in a debate sponsored by CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona at the Mesa Arts Center February 22, 2012 in Mesa, Arizona. The debate is the last one scheduled before voters head to the polls in Michigan and Arizona's primaries on February 28 and Super Tuesday on March 6. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Just six days before Michigan primary voters head to the polls, the four remaining presidential candidates lambasted the decisions of President George W. Bush and President Obama to use taxpayer money to help the auto industry based there.

At a CNN-sponsored debate in Mesa, Arizona, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney used the opportunity to clarify and defend an op-ed he wrote in 2008 entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

Romney repeated his explanation that he wanted a so-called managed bankruptcy that would let the company restructure itself, a move the Obama administration took in 2009, but said he he did not want to use taxpayer funds to support that process.

"I wrote an op-ed in the paper and I said, absolutely not. Do not write a check for $50 billion," Romney said.

The bailout, which was opposed by many outside of the industry, is popular in Michigan, and some analysts have claimed more than 1 million jobs were saved with the roughly $80 billion spent to help General Motors and Chrysler.

Michigan's Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who endorsed Romney ahead of Tuesday's primary, supported the bailout.

Santorum, who also opposed the auto bailout, used his time to hit Romney for supporting a Wall Street bailout, which Santorum said he opposed.

"I believe in markets, not just when they're convenient for me," Santorum said, taking a jab at Romney, who made his fortune as a private equity manager at Bain Capital.

More from the debate:

Santorum fights charges he's a "fake" conservative
Republican candidates spar over congressional spending
GOP candidates blast Obama for birth control ruling

Romney hit back, arguing that letting the big banks go would have undermined the entire banking system and taken down the U.S. economy.

"Like President Bush at the time, I was concerned that if we didn't do something, there were some pretty high risks that not just Wall Street banks, but all banks would collapse," Romney said.

Speaker Newt Gingrich said the money given to help the auto industry was a bailout of the United Auto Workers union.

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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