2008 was one crazy, almost surreal year. It was the year when the economy took a nosedive, and the U.S. auto industry nearly ceased to exist. One of the last major decisions former President Bush made before he left office was to give Chrysler and General Motors a combined $17.4 billion to keep their doors open.
That money held over the two automakers for a few months, but The Detroit News reports that the Bush administration almost took a different tack. The New Yorker published a 57-page economic memo that was written by economist Larry Summers to President Elect Obama. The memo claims that President Bush was noodling an earlier bankruptcy for the automakers, backed by up to $100 billion in government financing.
By instead forwarding GM and Chrysler a bridge loan, Bush (pictured here with former Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli) effectively prolonged the inevitable and pushed the tough decision on to the next administration. But that could have been the best possible action to take – Summers was reportedly of the opinion that pushing the automakers through bankruptcy too early could have severely damaged the entire U.S. auto industry – not just at Chrysler and GM.
In the end, Chrysler entered bankruptcy in April, followed by GM in June. Chrysler no longer owes the federal government any money, though Uncle Sam still owns 26.5 percent of The General. As a result of the Bush administration's choices, the Obama administration is the one that gets the blame and credit (depending on your political viewpoint) for shepherding the two automakers through bankruptcy.