In Full Campaign Voice, Obama Praises Auto Industry Bailout

Posted February 28th, 2012 at 2:15 pm (UTC-5)
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President Barack Obama has given a rousing election-year endorsement of the government's $80 billion bailout that rescued the once-faltering U.S. auto industry.

Mr. Obama saluted a convention of unionized autoworkers in Washington Tuesday. He said they make him proud even as Republican presidential contenders seeking to win their party's nomination to run against him in November's national election continue to oppose the government assistance.

The president noted that General Motors has now regained its position as the world's largest automaker and recently announced record profits, while Chrysler, the other beneficiary of the bailout, is the fastest growing U.S. automaker.

In a full-throated campaign speech, Mr. Obama, a Democrat, sharply accused his Republican opponents of trying to rewrite the history of the bailout. He said they are trying to claim that the autoworkers “made out like bandits” as the industry was restructured to meet competition from foreign automakers.

“The same folks who said if we went forward with our plan to rescue Detroit, 'You can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.' Now they're saying, 'We were right all along.' Or, you've got folks saying, 'Well, the real problem is, what we really disagreed with, was the workers. They all made out like bandits. Saving the auto industry was just about paying back the unions.' Really? I mean even by the standards of this town, that's a load of you-know-what.”

The president said the autoworkers made concessions in order to save the industry.

“About 700,000 retirees had to make sacrifices on their health care benefits that they had earned. A lot of you saw hours reduced, or pay or wages scaled back. You gave up some of your rights as workers. Promises were made to you over the years that you gave up for the sake and survival of this industry, its workers, their families. You want to talk about sacrifices? You made sacrifices. This wasn't an easy thing to do. Let me tell you, I keep on hearing these people talk about values all the time. You want to talk about values? Hard work – that's a value. Looking out for one another – that's a value. The idea that we're all in it together – that I am my brother's keeper and I am my sister's keeper – that's a value. They're out there talking about you like you're some special interest that needs to be beaten down. Since when are hardworking men and women who are putting in a hard day's work every day, since when are they a special interest? Since when is the idea that we look out for one another a bad thing?”

The president did not mention his political opponents by name, but his speech came the same day as one-time venture capitalist Mitt Romney and former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania vied in a Republican nominating contest in Michigan, hub of the country's auto industry. Romney, Santorum and a third Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, all opposed the bailout.

Surveys in Michigan show widespread support for the government's assistance for the auto industry, most of which, but not all, has been repaid to the government. But Republican opponents of the bailout say it was not necessary and wrong for the government to use taxpayer money to assist a private industry.