TAMPA, Fla. — Steve Rattner, who oversaw the Obama administration’s auto rescue, told TPM Thursday that Paul Ryan personally lobbied him in 2009 to intervene to reopen the Janesville, Wis., plant he cited in his convention speech on Wednesday.
Rattner recalled telling him the same thing he had told other lawmakers with similar requests: The White House left those decisions to the car companies.
“We did not get involved with individual plant decisions in the auto task force,” Rattner said in an interview with TPM. “So I find it ironic that Paul Ryan, who thinks the government should stay out of all this, was nonetheless lobbying to change that decision.”
Ryan actually voted for the 2008 auto rescue, breaking with most of his Republican colleagues in the House as well as Mitt Romney. However, he frequently criticizes the Obama administration for “picking winners and losers” in the economy. A spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment on his conversation with Rattner.
Rattner stressed that GM had made the decision to close the Janesville plant in question in June 2008 due to waning SUV demand — well before Obama took office. Nonetheless, Ryan has used the plant’s history repeatedly in attacks on the president’s auto policy, most notably in his convention address Wednesday.
Rattner described the federal government’s involvement in auto decisions as “very similar to any other kind of private equity exercise” and said that it was “ludicrous” to assume the White House determined which plants would be reopened or shuttered.
“In this case the government, we aren’t really equipped to make those decisions,” he said. “We go to management and say, ‘Give us a plan, show us what you’ll do and what your business will look like.’ We look at the numbers and say whether we think it works, or if it needs more or fewer plant closings. But beyond that we have no expertise to decide whether a plant in Janesville should be kept open versus one in Wilmington, Del., or Tennessee or anywhere else.”
While Janesville’s plant has yet to reopen, the auto bailout is credited by the Center for Automotive Research with rescuing over 1 million jobs overall.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.