Paul Ryan now calls wasteful federal auto-retooling program he once lauded

WASHINGTON _ GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan lauded a federal program designed to help automakers retool their factories as a “prudent” expenditure of taxpayer dollars before trying to strip it from the budget, according to a 2009 letter he co-wrote to the Treasury Department.

Ryan, who was selected to be the running mate of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney last week, backed the $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program when it was proposed by the Bush administration in 2007 to provide grants and low-interest loans to car manufacturers seeking to design more fuel efficient vehicles – a funding stream he is now calling wasteful and ill-advised.

But when a Chrysler plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin was shuttering its doors in May 2009, he teamed up with three Democratic lawmakers from Wisconsin to “strongly encourage” the Obama administration to direct some of the money to the plant.

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“At a time when unemployment is at an all time high in the US, every effort must be made to promote American jobs and use Americas’ tax dollars prudently,” Ryan wrote to Steve Rattner, chair of the Treasury Department’s Automotive Task Force, along with Rep. Gwen Moore and the state’s two senators, Herb Kohl and Russell Feingold. “We strongly encourage you to work with Chrysler to use this available funding to re-tool the Kenosha engine plant.”

The loans, they said, would help Chrysler retool the Kenosha engine plant in order to produce the fuel efficient “phoenix” line of engines.

Ryan, a self-described fiscal conservative who has railed against federal spending that he said “picks winners and losers,” also supported the Obama administration’s separate government bailout of automakers.

Romney’s choice of Ryan, whose budget calling for reduced government spending and tax cuts passed the House of Representatives, has increased scrutiny of his record as a seven-term congressman.

After the Globe reported earlier this week that he sought millions of dollars in the economic stimulus funds from the Obama administration that he fiercely opposed, he denied it before acknowledging late Thursday that he mishandled the matter.