GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan took a swipe at President Barack Obama on Thursday for failing to rescue a General Motors factory in his Wisconsin congressional district, calling it "one more broken promise" on the Democratic administration's record.
"I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he'll keep that plant open," Ryan said during a campaign stop. "One of the reasons that plant got shut down was $4 gasoline. You see, this costs jobs. The president's terrible energy policies are costing us jobs."
The attack has already received a fair amount of ridicule because the Janesville, Wis., plant actually closed during the last year of George W. Bush's presidency. What hasn't really been emphasized is whether Ryan clearly knew this and made the charge nonetheless.
According to a rudimentary LexisNexis search, Ryan made multiple public pleas to GM, including op-eds in his home state newspaper, to keep the plant open. He and fellow Wisconsin lawmakers went to the automobile company's headquarters to present plans to extend the plant's life. When the Bush administration itself called the decision to close the plant evidence that the auto industry was trimming fat and improving its bottom line, Ryan called the news "gut-wrenching."
And as it became clear in early-fall 2008 that GM wouldn't relent, Ryan publicly touted the federal tax money he secured to help displaced workers -- a use of funds that would seem at odds with his limited-government, fiscal conservative image.
The timeline is worth recounting now that it has popped up in Ryan's stump speech.
In April 29, 2008, it was announced that 750 workers at the GM plant in Janesville would lose their jobs. Ryan, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said he would "work closely with those in Janesville facing uncertainty in the months ahead and do all that I can to ensure that they get the assistance they need."
On May 1, 2008, then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), along with Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Ryan, sent a letter to Rick Wagoner, then GM CEO, urging the company to join government, community organizations and employers to help the affected workers.
"We ask that you give every consideration to maintaining GM's presence in Janesville, as well as taking future steps to ensure the continued success of the Janesville plant, including considering the assignment of new production models at the plant," the lawmakers wrote.
On May 4, 2008, Ryan wrote an op-ed in the Journal Sentinel calling for a comprehensive energy plan in light of the news that the GM plant was firing 750 people.
"As a fifth-generation native of Janesville, I grew up learning the old saying, "As GM goes, so goes Janesville,'" Ryan wrote.
It was announced in early June that GM would indeed close the Janesville plant and three others. Ryan said it was "gut wrenching."
Later, he joined Feingold and Kohl in writing another letter to Wagoner. "On May 1 of this year, we wrote to you asking that GM take future steps to ensure the continued success of the Janesville plant, including considering the assignment of new production models at the plant. We renew that request now," the letter read.
On June 4, the Bush administration framed GM's decision as evidence the troubled automaker was getting its finances in order.
The Bush White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said it was "a sign that Detroit continues to adapt and evolve and address the change in consumer tastes and attitudes. ... They're adapting well and they'll make these changes and hopefully be able to pull themselves up out of what has been a rough several years."
Then-Sen. Obama, who had visited the Janesville plant in February, issued a statement.
"My heart goes out to the workers and families affected by the closing of these GM plants," he said. "Today's news is a painful reminder not only of the challenges America faces in our global economy, but of George Bush's failed economic policies." He finished by pledging to help domestic automakers "with the funding they need to retool their factories and make fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel cars. And we'll invest in efforts to make sure that the cars of the future are made where they always have been -- in the United States."
Ryan was quoted in a Detroit News article that day. "Growing up and living in Janesville, this is something we've always feared," the congressman said, calling the closure "a big psychological and economic blow to our community and our state; but Janesville will survive this, because we simply have to survive this."
By September of 2008, Ryan, who supported the auto bailout so long as the funds didn't come from the financial sector bailout, was still working aggressively to get GM to change its mind. He, along with Feingold and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), met with company officials in Detroit and "made clear what a tremendous asset the people of Janesville's GM plant are to GM, and how important GM jobs are to the Janesville community." On Sept. 13, the Herald Times Reporter said Ryan and then-Gov. Jim Doyle (D) had presented an "aggressive incentive plan" to GM leaders.
But by then, GM's shutdown plans were set. On Oct. 11, 2008, the Journal Sentinel reported that GM would announce it would close the Janesville plant around Christmas, "at least a year earlier than the company had initially projected."
Less than a month earlier, Ryan was making preparations to help the displaced workers and using federal funds to pick up the tab. On Sept. 18, his office put out a statement that it had joined forces with the U.S. Commerce Department's Economic Development Agency to secure a $450,000 grant to support economic initiatives for the Janesville area.
"This has been a gut-wrenching summer for southern Wisconsin," Ryan said, "and today's announcement provides our community with much-needed support. I remain firmly optimistic that Janesville's best days are ahead."
On Oct. 2, Ryan announced that the U.S. Department of Labor had awarded a $1.6 million national emergency grant to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. The money would help "dislocated workers in Rock County's automotive industry, including workers at General Motors, Lear Corporation, Logistics Services Inc., and United Industries."