ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Saturday taxpayer-funded bailouts of the auto industry that he approved had paid off, in what amounted to a rejection of conservative arguments against such government help.
In his weekly radio and Web address, Obama kept up the pressure for an overhaul of U.S. financial regulations, saying the promising news from the auto industry had not reduced the need for Wall Street changes.
Government bailouts of Wall Street, begun by then-President George W. Bush in 2008 and continued by Obama, have come under heavy criticism from conservatives who feel the government is spending too much money and that big firms should be allowed to fail.
General Motors Co and Chrysler both reported progress this week in their government-financed turnarounds, but the Obama administration still forecasts some loss on the taxpayer bailout of both companies to help them recover from the economic slump and a steep drop in auto sales.
Obama used a great deal of his weekly address as a justification for why the bailouts were necessary to prevent an even worse economic calamity and to say the emergency programs were ending and would cost taxpayers “a fraction of what was originally feared.”
“This is a direct result of the careful management of the investments made by the American people so that we could recoup as many tax dollars as possible -- and as quickly as possible,” Obama said.
The issue is likely to be among those debated in the run-up to congressional elections in November in which Democrats are seeking to defend their strong majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Polls point toward gains by the Republicans.
By hammering away at Wall Street, Obama seeks to reassure Main Street he understands Americans’ concerns and convince them of the need for action. His healthcare overhaul remains unpopular with a sizable segment of Americans despite the best efforts of the White House to sell it.
Obama, spending a weekend with his wife, Michelle, in Asheville, a city on the fringe of the Blue Ridge Mountains, sought to keep up the momentum for a financial regulatory overhaul that seems to be heading for passage by the Senate.
The bill gained momentum after U.S. securities regulators sued Goldman Sachs Group on April 16, charging the investment bank with fraud in marketing a product linked to subprime mortgages, the risky loans at the heart of the financial crisis.
While Republicans argue the legislation would permit more government bailouts, Obama said, “These reforms would put an end -- once and for all -- to taxpayer bailouts.”
“They would bring greater transparency to complex financial dealings. And they will empower ordinary consumers and shareholders in our financial system,” he said.
Editing by Peter Cooney