Clinton fouls Sanders on auto bailout

How we make the call

Flagrant foul

A false statement about a candidate’s position or a fact involving policy. It’s one thing to point out differences between records. It’s another for a candidate or third-party group to present false information or inaccurately portray a candidate’s political record.

Regular foul

A statement that distorts a candidate’s record or a fact involving policy, or which omits a fact that is essential to understanding a candidate’s position.

Warning

A statement that may be generally truthful, but lacks context and could easily mislead or be misconstrued.

No foul

A statement, however strident, that is based on accurate facts.

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After the mudbath of the Republican debate in Detroit a few days previous, the face-off between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a Democratic presidential debate in Flint on Sunday, two days before today’s primary, seemed tame by comparison. But it was easily the most sharp-elbowed exchange between the two so far this election season.

As in our Truth Squads of the Republican battle in Detroit, we fished out Michigan-specific claims made by the Democratic candidates during the two-hour event. We begin with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, starting with her most troublesome statements. (Sen. Bernie Sanders's statements are checked separately.)

Who: Hillary Clinton
What: Statements during March 6 Democratic candidates’ debate in Flint
The Call: Foul

Statements under review

“(Bernie Sanders) was against the auto bailout. In January of 2009, President-elect Obama asked everybody in the Congress to vote for the bailout. The money was there, and had to be released in order to save the American auto industry and 4 million jobs, and to begin the restructuring. ...I voted to save the auto industry. He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry.”

Listening to Clinton's accusation at Sunday's debate, a Democratic primary voter in Michigan might be forgiven for concluding Sanders was against the 2009 auto bailout...in large part because Clinton literally said he "was against the auto bailout."

That statement is untrue. Sanders was not against the auto bailout. He favored extending help to U.S. auto companies at the time, but opposed another part of that legislation that was to bailout large financial firms.

Let's go to a timeline that begins in fall 2008 to unpack what makes Clinton's attack misleading. Recall that the nation was in full-blown fiscal crisis with large financial institutions collapsing and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac placed under conservatorship by the Treasury Department.

That October, Congress passed and then-President George W. Bush signed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (or TARP), authorizing up to $700 billion to help strengthen the financial sector. Sanders was not a fan.

In December, Congress tried to pass a separate $14 billion package for the wounded auto industry, a measure that both Sanders and Clinton supported. But that effort failed. So Bush, by then a lame duck, countered by setting aside part of the TARP package to aid U.S. automakers.

Then in January, just before President Obama took office, some lawmakers tried to block a new release of TARP funds that would have also helped the auto companies. Sanders was among this group, but again because of his objections to the Wall Street bailout, not to auto aid, as he made clear at the time.

“I know the state of Michigan has a rainy day fund for emergencies. What is more important than the health and well-being of the people, particularly children? It is raining lead in Flint, and the state is derelict in not coming forward with the money that is required.”

What is required to correct, or at least mitigate, the damage done by lead in Flint’s municipal water supply is a figure that changes often. The damage to both people and infrastructure is still being assessed and solutions are being debated. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who appears in a Clinton campaign ad, estimates the bill may come to $1.5 billion just to replace damaged pipes.

That’s a lot of money, a lot more than the state can simply find in a rainy-day fund, which stood at about $500 million as of September 2015. But the legislature has made money available since the crisis emerged in the fall. The most recent state allocation was $30 million for residential water bills; but in various pieces, the state has sent $70 million to Flint.

“Well, I think that the people here in the region, who knew about this and failed to follow what you just said, rightly, the law required, have been eliminated from the EPA.”

Not exactly. To date, only one EPA official – Susan Hedman, regional administrator – has left the agency, resigning effective Feb. 1. Emails suggest others at the EPA knew about the high lead levels and didn’t sound the alarm; so far, they remain in their jobs. The agency has been widely criticized for taking a bureaucratic approach to the problem and not moving quickly to correct it.

“I am also going to go after companies like Johnson Controls in Wisconsin. They came and got part of the (auto) bailout because they were an auto parts supplier and now they want to move (their) headquarters to Europe.”

During the tense times of the auto bailouts, Johnson Controls, a Wisconsin-based company did indeed advocate for the federal government to step in and stabilize the industry. But much like Ford Motor Co., it didn’t receive any direct funding itself, but pushed for help for General Motors and Chrysler, reasoning that if those Detroit companies went down, they would take smaller companies like Johnson Controls with them. In short, Johnson Controls did not get a direct bailout, but benefited indirectly from the aid given to Chrysler and GM.

Earlier this year Johnson Controls announced a merger with Tyco International that would move its international headquarters from Milwaukee to Cork, Ireland, saving the corporation $150 million a year in taxes. The move has been criticized by both Clinton and Sanders.

“We have a lot of communities right now in our country where the level of toxins in the water, including lead, are way above what anybody should tolerate. We have a higher rate of tested lead in people in Cleveland than in Flint.”

No foul here. As Bridge has reported, even in Michigan, there are cities where children have higher lead levels than they do in Flint, although the reason isn’t necessarily water, but other ways lead can get into a human body – lead dust from paint in older homes, mainly. And Cleveland does indeed have alarmingly high levels of lead in children’s blood; the New York Times recently reported the percentage of children with elevated lead levels is double what Flint’s was at its 2014 peak.

“I believe, if you look at the data, the situation has only gotten worse with these emergency managers (in Detroit Public Schools) that have put the system further in debt.”

This is true. Both the district’s finances and academics have deteriorated since 2009 when Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed the first emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools.

In 2009, the DPS deficit was $305 million. By last week, when Gov. Rick Snyder appointed retired Judge Steven Rhodes, who presided over the city's municipal bankruptcy, to be DPS' fifth emergency manager, it had climbed to $515 million. Enrollment over the same period has dropped from about 92,000 students in 2009 to about 46,000 students today.

The call: Foul

A lot of claims were made from the stage in Flint, and this was a debate, with time limits and, realistically, not much time to discuss nuances of policy and current events.

But Clinton distorted Sanders’ record on the auto-industry bailout, potentially a lethal blow in a state like Michigan. She later acknowledged indirectly that what Sanders objected to was the Wall Street component to the aid package that also helped automakers, but only after being confronted by Sanders. A clear foul.

In other claims, as in her assertion that the EPA had cleaned house, she was factually incorrect. She also went too far in declaring that Johnson Controls was bailed out, though the supplier did benefit from the auto aid. But Clinton is correct about the Detroit Public Schools’ failure to thrive under state emergency management, and yes, lead is a problem in a lot of places other than Flint.

About The Author

Bridge Staff

Bridge’s mission is to inform Michigan citizens about their state, amplify their views and explore the challenges of our civic life.

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Comments

Jeff
Wed, 03/09/2016 - 9:33am
To my knowledge, she only voted once on any legislation to help the auto industry. This was the initial "emergency" funding bill which was soundly defeated as it was obvious the amount was not nearly enough to provide any assistance.