Obama: Auto bailout ‘was the right thing to do’

President Obama said Wednesday that the federal government’s $80 billion bailout of the U.S. auto industry was the “right thing to do” during a speech in Michigan on Wednesday. 

The auto bailouts, which were initiated by former President George W. Bush but largely overseen by Obama, were unpopular at the beginning of the Obama administration. 

The president has moved to take credit for the bailouts as they have become more popular following the turnaround of the U.S. auto industry. 

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“Betting on you was the right thing to do… And that bet has paid off for America, because the American auto industry is back,” Obama told workers at a Ford plant in Wayne, Mich. 

Ford was the only major U.S. automaker that did not take a bailout from the federal government when the rescue money was issued in 2008 and 2009. 

The bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler were first initiated before Obama was inaugurated in 2009. But the Obama administration has attempted to take credit for them as the U.S. auto industry has improved its performance in recent years. 

Obama hammered 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for his opposition to the loans for the duration of his bid for re-election that year. The bailouts were credited with playing a large role in helping Ohio to win the critical swing of Ohio en route to his defeat of Romney.

Romney wrote an op-ed in the New York Times 2008 that was titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” that become a staple of Obama’s campaign speeches in the Midwest, though Republican officials argued that the phase that became a staple of campaign ads in 2012 was not written by that year's GOP nominee. 

Obama made a veiled reference to initial Republican opposition to the bailouts during his remarks to Ford workers on Wednesday. 

“We could have done nothing, which some people said we should do, and let those companies fail, but think about what that would have met for this country -- the suppliers, the distributors, the communities that depend on the workers who patronize the restaurants and shop at the stores. All those companies would have gone under also,” he said. 

Obama touted the fact that the federal government has sold its final shares in the auto companies, ending a partial ownership that led conservative critics to derisively refer to General Motors as “Government Motors.” 

“Last month, the rescue of the auto industry officially came to an end,” he said to the Ford workers. “The auto companies have now repaid taxpayers every dime, and more, of what my administration invested in you. You paid the taxpayers back with your hard work, with your dedication.” 

Obama said he was touting the auto bailouts ahead of his upcoming State of the Union address in an effort to stoplight economic progress that has happened under his watch. 

“We can make sure that the middle class is the engine that powers American prosperity for decades to come,” he said. “And that's going to be the focus of my State of the Union address in a couple of weeks -- building on the progress that we've already made.” 

Obama is scheduled to deliver the State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 20.