Copyright ©2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Mitt Romney is from Michigan. He won the Republican primary there, and he says he hopes to win the state again in the fall. But Romney has very publicly opposed the government bailout of the auto industry. In 2008, when it was clear Chrysler and GM were in big trouble, he wrote a New York Times op-ed that ran under the headline: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

The government stepped in. The company still did file for bankruptcy. And today, the companies are back making cars and making money. And now, candidate Romney says it was his idea all along.

NPR's Tamara Keith reports on the controversy over who should get credit.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Earlier this week, in an appearance on WEWS-TV in Cleveland, Mitt Romney said something that has raised more than a few eyebrows.

MITT ROMNEY: I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy. And finally, when that was done and help was given, the companies got back on their feet. So I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry has come back.

KEITH: It's true that in his 2008 editorial, Romney suggested the idea of a managed bankruptcy. He says it was a mistake for the Bush administration and later the Obama administration to give the automakers money before they went into bankruptcy. Here's Romney further explaining his vision in a CNBC-sponsored debate in November 2011.

ROMNEY: My plan, we would have had a private sector bailout, with the right of private sector restructuring and bankruptcy with the private sector guiding the direction, as opposed to what we had with the government playing its heavy hand.

BOB LUTZ: Frankly, what we told ourselves at General Motors was we're sure he's a good governor, but he doesn't know what he's talking about in this instance.

KEITH: Bob Lutz is a retired vice chairman of GM. He's the author of the book "Car Guys and Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business," and he was at GM at the time of the crisis. He says he and other executives wrote off Romney's idea of a private sector restructuring for one simple reason.

LUTZ: What he conveniently forgets is that there was zero liquidity in the country. There was no way to fund a private Chapter 11, even though, believe me, General Motors really tried to get private debt financing or organize a private Chapter 11. But there was no money to do it.

KEITH: Ultimately, the companies did go through managed bankruptcies, managed by the government with taxpayer dollars. In the months since that November debate, Romney has changed his emphasis, saying he was also open to the idea of government guarantees - though not government checks - to help the companies emerge from bankruptcy.

Lutz describes himself as a conservative and a Republican, and he's no fan of President Obama, that is except in the case of the auto rescue.

LUTZ: He just went in and he put the right team together and he got it done. And the results are there for all to see. And I, you know, I think you have to give credit where credit is due.

KEITH: And despite his own personal political leanings, Lutz says it's not due to Governor Romney.

LUTZ: I hope he carries Michigan. But, to me, there's something not quite right about a political system that will rely on modifications of the truth, in order to get the political job done.

KEITH: Another person who was deeply involved in the auto bailout is Steven Rattner. He was the lead advisor to the president and the Treasury secretary, also known as the Car Czar.

STEVEN RATTNER: Oh, I have seen the quote, yes.

KEITH: But Rattner isn't sure how Romney can, as the candidate said earlier this week, take a lot of credit for the industry's comeback.

RATTNER: We, of course, had absolutely no contact with him during this. We were unaware of any views he might have had. I know he wrote a piece for The New York Times in '08, but we really hadn't paid any attention to it. So this idea that he now is taking credit for, it does boggle the mind.

KEITH: President Obama this week described this as one of Romney's Etch-A-Sketch moments. For his part, Romney points back to that 2008 editorial, saying he was right all along.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.