Fact Check: Obama makes questionable claim on Romney's auto bailout stance

In one of the most contentious exchanges of their final debate, President Obama and Mitt Romney clashed over the federal auto bailout of 2008, with the former accusing the latter of not supporting any forms of government assistance to auto companies.

"You were very clear that you would not provide government assistance to the U.S. auto companies, even if they went through bankruptcy," Obama said, going on the offensive. "You said that they could get it in the private marketplace. That wasn't true."

But Romney rejected the claim -- and he's got the op-ed he wrote to back him up.

"Under no circumstances would I do anything other than to help this industry get on its feet," Romney said, "And the idea that has been suggested that I would liquidate the industry, of course not."

In a 2008 op-ed entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," Romney did in fact call on the government to play a role in responding to the auto crisis but in the form of federal guarantees, not loans.

"The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk," Romney wrote in The New York Times editorial.

The dispute between the candidates boils down to whether or not -- as President Bush, and then President Obama believed -- government loans were necessary to save Detroit or whether -- as Romney argued -- private financing, backed by federal guarantees, would have been a wiser response.

Proponents of the government loans issued to the auto companies, however, say that credit was so tight during the economic crisis of 2008 that federal guarantees would not have freed up enough private capital to save General Motors and Chrysler.