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Is Mitt Romney flip-flopping on the auto industry bailout?

Mitt Romney opposes the government bailout of the auto industry now. But in 2008, Mitt Romney supported the bailout. 'Why the switch?' ask some in Michigan.

By DCDecoder / February 14, 2012

A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney holds a sign as he speaks in Mesa, Ariz., February 13, 2012.

REUTERS/Joshua Lott

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Washington

Mitt Romney and the auto bailout have a complicated history.

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Mitt Romney’s dad was the governor of Michigan. Mitt won the Michigan primary in 2008 talking about how helping the auto industry would be one of his most important themes in his first 100 days in office.

Then Mitt wrote a New York Times op-ed titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” during discussions around the auto bailout, begun by President Bush with a $15 billion injection and continued by President Obama with a $55 billion cash infusion.

On Tuesday, Romney wrote another op-ed, this time in the Detroit News, sticking by his commitment in the previous New York Times op-ed and writing that the Obama administration used the bailout as a way to help its “cronies” in the labor movement.

Back in 2008, however, Romney was singing a different tune when he campaigned for the state’s Republican presidential primary.

Let’s set the stage: Arizona Sen. John McCain, leading Romney in the polls in Romney’s home state at the time, says “the jobs that are leaving the state of Michigan have left and are not coming back. We’re going to try to create new jobs.”

This gives Team Romney some serious ammunition: They won’t quit on the auto industry and Michigan.

So, who did Romney point to as the culprit for Detroit’s malaise? Yes, he frequently knocks unions. But there’s another villain in this story: the federal government not doing enough to help the auto industry. A January 13, 2008 piece in The New York Times - published two days before the Michigan primary - reads:

”The question is, where is Washington?” Mr. Romney said, speaking to a gaggle of reporters across from a General Motors transmission plant near Ypsilanti, where 200 layoffs were announced this week. ”Where does it stop? Is there a point at which someone says ‘enough’? Or are we going to allow the entire domestic automotive manufacturing industry to disappear?”

Mr. Romney criticized the energy bill signed into law last month by President Bush that requires cars and trucks sold in the United States to achieve a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Substantial majorities in both parties in both houses of Congress approved the measure. Mr. McCain voted for it.

Mr. Romney said he opposed the new mileage standard, describing it as an anvil tossed to Detroit by a government that did not understand the auto industry or care about its workers. ”As president, I will not rest as Detroit gets to see layoff after layoff after layoff,” he said.

What are Romney’s proposed solutions? How will he fix the pensions and healthcare liabilities at auto companies which he says add $2,000 to the cost of every car? The New York Times summarizes thus:

Mr. Romney proposed increased government spending for research on advanced fuels and vehicles, aid to automakers to deal with the costs of health care and pensions for retirees, and tax cuts for most taxpayers to help them buy new cars.

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