Paul Ryan slammed President Obama on Thursday for failing to rescue an auto factory in his Wisconsin district — one that closed in 2008, under President George W. Bush.
The latest attack highlights the complicated politics of the auto rescue for Ryan, who was one of only a handful of Republicans to vote in favor of the 2008 bailout that President Bush signed as a stopgap measure to prevent the industry from going under.
“I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he’ll keep that plant open,” Ryan said in Ohio Thursday, describing the shuttered GM factory in Janesville, Wis. “One more broken promise.”
Ryan blamed rising gas prices under Obama for the closing. He echoed the complaint in an interview with a local ABC affiliate, suggesting it showed that Obama’s auto rescue was a sham.
“It didn’t help Janesville,” he said. “They shut our plant down. It didn’t help Kenosha. I represent there; they shut down the Chrysler plant.”
The Detroit News noted that Obama said during a visit in early 2008 that government help and some restructuring could keep the plant open. But after the financial crisis and a collapse in demand for the SUVs the factory produced, it shut down in December 2008 in the waning days of Bush’s second term. It’s still owned by GM, but has been closed ever since.
That factory’s demise, as well as other subsequent closings, were a major economic blow to the region even as the broader national industry bounced back. Wisconsin’s federal lawmakers and the local auto workers pushed the administration in 2009 to divert funds and work with Chrysler and GM to save the area’s plants.
Both Ryan and Romney have unconventional positions on the auto bailout, although they reached them from different directions. In 2008, Ryan supported the Bush loans that Romney famously opposed in an editorial titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
“What I voted for was to prevent a worse bailout,” Ryan told ABC9, claiming that he was afraid the president would use TARP money to go through with the plan if Congress didn’t direct funding itself. It was a view that few of his fellow Republicans in districts that didn’t include auto plants shared at the time — 150 Republicans voted against the bill, while 32 Republicans, mostly in similar auto-dependent districts, voted in favor of it.
Obama used the time bought by the bill to craft his own 2009 rescue plan, which industry leaders have hailed as the start of their successful turnaround. The president has since made their return to profitability a central theme of his re-election campaign.
But if Ryan’s newest take seems to be that the rescue failed, Romney has offered vague hints that he’d have acted similarly to rescue car companies from liquidation if necessary. He has also attacked Obama for not going far enough in aiding car dealerships.
This post has been updated.
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.