by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
Democrats are expecting Vice President Biden to tout the bailout of the U.S. auto industry in Wednesday’s vice presidential debate more forcefully than President Obama in his first encounter with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Although it was a major Democratic talking point leading up to and during the summer convention season, the $80 billion loaned to General Motors and Chrysler in 2008 and 2009 was scarcely mentioned by Obama in a widely panned debate performance last week in Denver.
But Biden has made the phrase “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” a staple of his stump speeches this year. Democrats are expecting him to firmly press the gas on the argument that Obama deserves credit for the turnaround of the auto industry in the Wednesday’s debate with GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in Danville, Ky.
“Biden can say it,” Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said of the vice president’s preferred slogan for Obama’s reelection campaign. “It’s not really Barack Obama’s style, so I’m not surprised he didn’t say it, but I wouldn’t surprised to hear [Biden] say it [Wednesday night].”
Since the end of last Thursday’s first presidential debate, Democrats have lamented that Obama squandered a plethora of opportunities to land punches on Romney. Highly ranked among them was not mentioning a 2008 New York Times op-ed Romney wrote that was titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
Simmons said he was sure Biden would come out swinging Wednesday on several topics that Obama took a pass on, even as he noted vice presidential races are rarely impactful on presidential contests.
“I’m sure that Biden will be more aggressive, that’s the role of vice president to bring up the negatives of the opposition,” Simmons said. “I think the vice presidential debate, unless there is something spectacularly good or spectacularly bad, is treading water until the next event.”
Simmons said Biden did not have to rattle off the entire Democratic wish lists of attacks on Romney: the bailout, the “47 percent” remark, the wealthy GOP nominee’s tax returns and social issues like abortion. But he said the vice president would be wise to mention a few of the “arrows in the quiver.”
The other candidate who will be on stage Wednesday, Ryan, has not shied away from talking about the state of the auto industry since the bailouts either.
The GOP vice presidential nominee voted for the first bailout that was given to GM and Chrysler under former President George W. Bush. But in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, Ryan blamed Obama for the closing of a General Motors plant in his home state.
“A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant,” Ryan said of the facility in Janesville, Wis. “Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said, ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another 100 years.'”
“That’s what he said in 2008,” Ryan said. “Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns where the recovery that was promised is no where in sight.”
Democrats have pointed out since that the plant was first scheduled to close under Bush.
Joshua Schank, president of the nonpartisan Eno Center for Transportation, said Biden would be probably be more likely to bring up the auto bailout Wednesday than Ryan.
“I would be surprised if Ryan brings it up. I don’t think that’s a winner for him given how he was beaten up last time,” Schank said in response to the pushback on the Janesville story from both Democrats and independent fact checkers.
“Given what happened in first debate [between Obama and Romney], everyone’s expected [Biden] to go on attack,” Schank continued. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes after him on the auto bailout.”
Schank said he was more interested to see if the vice presidential candidates hold a sustained discussion about transportation funding.
“What I’m hoping to see if a discussion of budget cuts,” Schank said, identifying Biden as the most likely defender of continued infrastructure spending in Wednesday’s vice-presidential face-off.
“Given his Amtrak allegiance, he played huge role in stimulus, he always big on transportation when he was in the Senate … I don’t see Biden bringing that up, but Ryan can say ‘we’re going to cut,’ and Biden can say ‘are you going to cut Amtrak?'”
Obama and Romney are scheduled to debate on Oct. 16 at Hofrstra University in New York.