Obama's Hard Sells: Auto Bailout, START
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
President Obama spoke today about the sale of GM stock. He said the country is beginning to see the payoff from what he called tough decisions, including the $50 billion rescue of GM.
President BARACK OBAMA: Today, one of the toughest tales of the recession took another big step towards becoming a success story. General Motors relaunched itself as a public company, cutting the government's stake in the company by nearly half. What's more, American taxpayers are now positioned to recover more than my administration invested in GM.
SIEGEL: For more on this, NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now from the White House. And, Mara, what else did President Obama have to say?
MARA LIASSON: Well, the president pointed to every piece of good news that he could about GM and the auto industry. He said that since GM and Chrysler have emerged from bankruptcy, they've created more than 75,000 new jobs. For the first time in six years, all three American auto companies are operating at a profit. And he said that experts have estimated that if hadn't done this, bailed them out, there would have been a million jobs lost and tens of billions of dollars spent in additional social safety net benefits. So his message is, as he said, we are finally beginning to see some of the tough decisions that we made in the midst of the crisis pay off.
SIEGEL: But the GM bailout was and remains a hard sell with the public. Does the administration see today's stock offering as potentially boosting stock in their policies, as a possible pivot point here?
LIASSON: Yes. It's a hard sell, as you said. But now that GM is beginning to turn the corner, the TARP, for instance, the big financial industry bailout, that's actually turning a profit for taxpayers. So as GM begins to pay the government back as the economy starts getting better, the White House believes they have a chance to get people to acknowledge that all of the unpopular decisions they made might have been the right thing.
Now, that's not what the next two years is going to be about solely. The president is going to have a much bigger message about growth in the economy, but they do feel that now they've finished putting out the fires, they can start pointing to the success stories, and that people will actually start believing them.
SIEGEL: Mara, the White House has had another hard sell on its agenda this week: the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty, the New START treaty, with Russia. What's happening there?
LIASSON: Well, the START treaty has run into an obstacle in the person of the number two Republican in the Senate, Jon Kyl. He says he doesn't want to vote on this during the lame-duck session. The president is pulling out all the stops to try to get the treaty through the lame-duck Senate. He convened a meeting of foreign policy heavyweights from both parties today. Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and James Baker were there. And he's hoping he can convinced the Senate to do what it's always done on these arms treaties, which is to ratify them by huge overwhelming bipartisan margins, although I think it's going to be very hard if Jon Kyl simply doesn't want to do it.
SIEGEL: Are they hearing anything encouraging from Senator Kyl?
LIASSON: Well, you know, they say no. Not yet. Well, Senator Kyl has some specific objections, although it's not clear if those are the only things that are causing him to say we shouldn't vote in the lame-duck. He wants more money for the modernization of the nuclear arsenal, and they are certainly giving more money to that end. They seem very confident that they can get the votes, although they can't really point to what the votes are yet.
SIEGEL: And this has to happen before the lame-duck session ends?
LIASSON: Well, yes. It could happen after the first of the year, but don't forget, the math in the Senate changes after the first of the year. And instead of needing nine Republicans, you're going to need 14 because there are going to be six fewer Democrats, and you need 67 votes to ratify a treaty.
SIEGEL: Okay. Thank you, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mara Liasson joining us from the White House.