Mitt Romney’s Bank-Friendly Plan to Save Detroit

Last year I took a long look at Mitt Romney’s position on the auto bailout and concluded that he was kinda sorta right to say that Obama’s eventual plan was close to the one he had previously recommended. Romney seems bound and determined to make me regret ever writing that, but so far I haven’t had the energy to revisit the subject. Today, though, Steve Benen directs my attention to a piece by Tom Walsh in the Detroit Free Press. Romney swung by to talk to their editorial board and Walsh took notes:

To be specific about the editorial board discussion, Romney feigned surprise and outrage that anyone might conclude from his November, 2008 op-ed article in the New York Times, entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” that he would have allowed GM and Chrysler to be liquidated if he were president. “That is so absurd,” he said.

Rather, Romney insisted, citing the second-to-last sentence in his 2008 op-ed essay, he would have steered the companies into managed bankruptcy — but with loan and warranty guarantees, not tens of billions of dollars in bailout cash. [I think Romney is right on this point. He didn’t write the headline for that NYT op-ed. –ed.]

And who would have made the big loans that Romney would have federally guaranteed? The private credit markets were frozen in the financial panic of late 2008 and early 2009, leading many experts to conclude that no private lender would have stepped up to finance bankruptcies as huge and risky as those of GM and Chrysler.

When I pressed Romney on this point, he insisted that if the U.S. Treasury issued bonds or guarantees, plenty of private lenders would have surfaced.

That’s probably not true. But leave that aside for the moment. Why does Romney favor loan guarantees instead of direct federal loans in the first place? The way this works, taxpayers don’t just risk taking a loss, they’re practically guaranteed to take a loss. If the loans perform well, private lenders get all the profit. If they tank, Treasury pays the bill. And in the meantime, billions of dollars in scarce private loans are directed toward GM and Chrysler, making it even harder for other businesses to access the credit markets.

In what way is this a better deal than just making the loans directly? As with college loan guarantees, it’s really nothing more than a way of ensuring private banks a surefire profit with no risk. Republicans need to find a new wheeze. This one is getting long in the tooth.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.