Auto bailout moves center stage in Senate race
Washington — The auto bailout and government support for start-up automakers is returning to center stage in the race to replace Sen. Carl Levin.
Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land is airing a new TV ad around the state starting Wednesday criticizing Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, for his support for the $25 billion auto retooling loan program.
Land’s new 30-second ad titled “Bad Loans” focuses on the Energy Department’s decision to award $529 million to Anaheim, Calif.-based Fisker Automotive Inc.
On Thursday, former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who criticized Fisker in 2012, will appear at a rally in support of the Republican ticket in Livonia, while Levin, D-Detroit; Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing; and Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, will attend a campaign event at a United Auto Workers local hall in the same city. Certain to come up is Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout funded by former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
“With American automakers struggling, Gary Peters outsourced our money on bad loans to foreign car manufacturers,” the ad says. “Using our taxes to hurt our auto industry.”
The Energy Department said all of the funds loaned to Fisker were used for U.S. engineering operations, even though its limited production was conducted in Finland by a contract automaker. It’s not clear how Fisker, which sold less than 2,000 plug-in luxury cars that cost $100,000 worldwide, hurt U.S. automakers.
Fisker filed for bankruptcy last year, resulting in a $139 million loss to taxpayers, and its assets were sold to a Chinese businessman. Its Energy Department reserve was seized and about $300 million of the loan was rescinded.
Fisker said in November 2012 it was considering Michigan for a new technical center. It previously had a center in Pontiac and had considered buying a shuttered GM assembly plant in Pontiac in 2009 to build cars, but opted for a Delaware plant instead. Fisker had planned to create 2,000 factory jobs in Delaware and start production by late 2012. It never opened.
Romney in 2012 criticized loans to Fisker and Tesla Motors Inc., which borrowed $465 million.
"The president invested taxpayer money — your money — in green companies, now failed, that met his fancy, and sometimes were owned by his largest campaign contributors. He spent billions of taxpayer dollars on investments like Solyndra, Tesla, Fisker, and Ener1, which only added to our mounting federal debt," Romney said in 2012.
Tesla was a big success story for the program. It repaid its loan nine years early and now has a market capitalization of more than $30 billion. The company announced plans to build a $5 billion battery plant in Nevada and employ 6,500 at the plant.
"Gary Peters says he stands for Michigan workers, but he voted to send over half a billion dollars to car companies overseas that are now owned by China. Gary Peters won't tell the truth, and he won't put Michigan first. Michigan workers trust Terri Lynn Land to fight for their jobs because as a small-business owner she knows what it takes to grow the economy and put Michigan first, and rule No. 1 is no tax dollars to create jobs in China,” said Heather Swift, Land campaign spokeswoman.
Land’s ad doesn’t mention some facts about the program, including that it was signed into law and funded in separate acts of Congress in 2007 and 2008 by Bush. In fact, Peters wasn’t in Congress to vote on either program, but did strongly support it — and opposed efforts to reduce funding by Republicans in Congress.
"Terri Lynn Land proved she couldn't be trusted on Michigan jobs when she made clear that she would have opposed the auto rescue. Land is so desperate to distract from her opposition to the auto rescue, she's resorting to making wild claims that don't pass a straight face test,” said Peters spokeswoman Haley Morris. “Gary welcomes the opportunity to compare his record fighting to save or create thousands of Michigan jobs and our auto industry with Terri Lynn Land's position to let our auto industry and middle class fail in a debate."
Peters appeared at a UAW hall in Oakland County last week to note Land’s support for Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout as it was executed.
In 2012, Land, a then Republican National committeewoman, supported Romney's opposition to the 2008-09 auto bailouts. He wrote an op-ed titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" that opposed bailouts unless automakers first filed for bankruptcy.
Swift said Land “would have supported the auto rescue ... Terri would have voted for any plan that saved the auto industry over no plan, but as it happened, Congress could not come to a final agreement. If given the chance, Terri would have voted to save the auto industry."
Swift said earlier this year that Land in the 2012 clip was "discussing the fact that she thought that there were other solutions that could have also been explored."
"Terri has always believed that something needed to be done to address the auto crisis, but at the time was not convinced on the specific plan that was proposed," Swift said.
Bush in December 2008 rejected requiring GM and Chrysler to file for bankruptcy — as Romney and others had suggested. Instead, Bush, who had been presented with that option by aides, gave the automakers and their finance arms $25 billion before leaving office. Obama required GM and Chrysler to file for bankruptcy in 2009 as a condition of adding about $60 billion to the auto bailout. The U.S. Treasury completed its exit from GM in December.
The $25 billion program has had a mixed record.
The loans that performed well: $5.9 billion to Ford Motor Co. to support more than 30,000 thousand jobs and $1.4 billion to Nissan Motor Co for electric vehicle and battery production.
But the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program hasn't made a new loan since March 2011 and came under scrutiny after two of five companies that received loans halted production. The auto loan program was created to spur the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Since 2009, the program awarded $8.4 billion in loans and has about $16 billion. Republicans have on several occasions tried to cut some of the unused funding, a move Peters opposed.
In an interview in April, Peter W. Davidson, executive director of the Energy Department's Loan Programs Office, said the department is committed to making new auto loans.
"We are definitely open for business," Davidson said, adding they are open to loan to start-ups in advanced technologies like EVs and natural gas. "We are very eager to re-engage with the (auto) industry and start making loans."