* Obama says auto industry in strong period of job growth
* Obama: tough calls during financial crisis paying off (updates with quotes from Obama)
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama told U.S. taxpayers on Thursday that they will get their money back for saving General Motors (GM.N), taking credit for an unpopular bailout the White House sees as a clear symbol of success.
“American taxpayers are now positioned to recover more than my administration invested in GM,” Obama told reporters after the carmaker refloated as a public company amid heavy investor demand.
Public anger over the bailout, along with bailouts for Wall Street banks, contributed to heavy losses for Obama’s Democrats in Nov. 2 congressional elections.
But the stock sale capped GM’s recovery from near-collapse, thanks to a $50 billion rescue, and Obama hammered home the message that his policies were bearing fruit.
Backing the U.S. auto industry saved more than a million jobs across the country, Obama said, emphasizing that unemployment, which is still stuck near 10 percent, would have been much worse without the action of his administration.
“Today, one of the toughest tales of the recession took another big step to becoming a success story,” he said. “Our automakers are in the midst of their strongest period of job growth in more than a decade.”
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will travel next week to an Indiana city that is home to several auto plants, helping the White House to keep the media spotlight on jobs saved through aid to the auto industry.
The initial public offering of GM stock raised $20.1 billion, two thirds of the $30 billion Obama sank into the 102-year old company, on top of $20 billion committed by his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush.
“Just two years ago, this seemed impossible. In fact, there were plenty of doubters and naysayers who said it couldn’t be done, who were prepared to throw in the towel and read the American auto industry last rites,” Obama said.
“We are finally beginning to see some of these tough decisions that we made in the midst of crisis pay off. And I’m absolutely confident that we’re going to keep on making progress,” he said. (Reporting by Alister Bull and Patricia Zengerle, editing by Philip Barbara)