Should Democrats also tout the bank bailout, and how might Republicans respond?
Who could have imagined two years ago that the bailouts would have gone so well that they would be used as a campaign talking point in 2012? Some Democrats are using the auto industry bailout, in particular, as proof that they were successful in taking action to prevent a more catastrophic recession. The strategy is a little bit risky, of course, as many Americans detest the very idea of bailouts, no matter the consequences. Is this a smart tactic for Democrats?
The Wrong Bailout?
First, it's kind of puzzling that Democrats are campaigning on the success of the auto bailout -- and not the bank bailout. In fact, taxpayers fared far better through their "investment" in the banking industry than they did in the auto industry. As of the Treasury's March bailout program update (.pdf), the auto bailout is expected to cost taxpayers $15 billion. Meanwhile, the non-housing-related financial industry bailout is expected to provide the government with a net gain of $157 billion. Obviously, the taxpayers were far better off rescuing the banks than they were rescuing out the auto companies.
But what about the jobs saved? Unfortunately, these numbers are impossible to tabulate accurately. Although the Obama administration claims that the bailout of GM and Chrysler saved a million jobs, a similar estimate for the bank bailout is difficult to make. Looking at the size of the respective industries, however, could provide some idea of what might have been lost. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the auto industry had 780,000 employees when it was bailed out in December 2008. The banking and insurance industries (excluding real estate), however, had 5.92 million workers at that time. Even by this measure, it seems that saving the financial sector was more worthwhile.