Jon Huntsman’s Clintonian dodge on government bailouts

Jonathan Strong | Contributor

Questioned by a New Hampshire voter Monday about the government’s $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, President Barack Obama’s former Chinese Ambassador Jon Huntsman dodged the question in a style much like that of former President Bill Clinton.

The question was, do you feel “the whole bailout program” “worked or didn’t work,” and “would you do that if you were president?”

At the time of the government bailout, called the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Huntsman supported it, saying in a televised debate, “I don’t think there’s any way around it.”

Monday, Huntsman was less clear and concise.

“When you look at the TARP money – I mean you can go back and look at what I said about the auto bailout, I basically argued that there should be a Chapter 11 restructuring of the bankruptcy,” Huntsman said.

The auto bailout was a relatively small slice of the larger, overall bailout that, yes, Huntsman did oppose. But it wasn’t the program itself, and turning to the auto bailout as the first part of answering the voter’s question is confusing, at best.

So, what about “the whole bailout program?” (Huntsman campaign announces Massachusetts team)

“The finance sector – it will be interesting to see how much this is repaid back to the United States. I don’t know. Maybe 80 or 85 percent at this point and I think more beyond that,” Huntsman continued.

Notably missing from this sentence was an answer to whether he, Jon Huntsman, thinks the bailout was successful and whether he, Jon Huntsman, would have backed it as president.

Huntsman then turned to President Obama’s economic stimulus law.

“In terms of the $787 billion stimulus package, my concern about that was it went to the states to be handled and spent any way that the states saw fit. As opposed to looking at something that would truly stimulate the economy, which I advocated for at the time….Which would have been looking at a payroll tax reduction, which would have been targeted spending on infrastructure projects, which this country needs. It didn’t go to those particular areas and I think when we look back we see that the value added was not nearly what it should have been,” Huntsman said.

One week after President Obama signed the stimulus into law, however, Huntsman offered another criticism he somehow failed to note to this New Hampshire voter. (Pawlenty: I’m a lover and a fighter)

“It probably wasn’t large enough,” he told Politico, “the size of about a trillion dollars was floated by Mark Zandi, who’s a very respected economist. I tend to believe what he is saying about the size of the package, which didn’t necessarily hit the mark in terms of size.”

As governor of Utah, Huntsman eagerly accepted funds from the law.

He did also tell Politico the just-signed law didn’t have “enough stimulus effect. For example, a payroll tax exemption or maybe even a cut in the corporate tax.”

Full quotes:

Huntsman in gubernatorial debate, Oct. 1, 2008:

Do we need a rescue package? Do we need a federal government to backstop to the tune of $700 billion? I don’t think there’s anyway around that….In order to get the system working again, Congress is going to have to step in and do something. Now, we all have questions about the mechanics of how that $700 billion bailout package would work, if, in fact, we would recoup anything from that, since you’re buying distressed and undervalued securities and derivatives and mortgages. You know, that’s a big question mark for a lot of people.

Interviewer: “So, on balance you support the bailout plan right now?”

Huntsman: “I do, I do.”

New Hampshire Voter, July 4, 2011:

Do you have a comment on the whole bailout program and how you feel it worked or didn’t work? And would you do that if you were as president? I might add that for a lot of reasons a lot of people voted against Democrats because of the bailout, especially in New Hampshire, I think.

Huntsman:

We faced a difficult set of circumstances. As one president was transitioning out and another in. When you look at the TARP money – I mean you can go back and look at what I said about the auto bailout, I basically argued that there should be a Chapter 11 restructuring under bankruptcy. Before we bail out industries we should allow them to take advantage of something akin to a Chapter 11 reworking of their assets and their balance sheets so that was where I came down on the auto industry. The finance sector – it will be interesting to see how much this is repaid back to the United States. I don’t know how much. Maybe 80 or 85 percent at this point and I think more beyond that…

In terms of the $787 billion stimulus package, my concern about that was it went to the states to be handled and spent any way that the states saw fit. As opposed to looking at something that would truly stimulate the economy, which I advocated for at the time … Which would have been looking at a payroll tax reduction, which would have been targeted spending on infrastructure projects, which this country needs. It didn’t go to those particular areas and I think when we look back we see that the value added was not nearly what it should have been.

Watch:

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