Published October 11, 2011
It seems congressional Republicans are more interested in making President Obama a one-term president than in creating or protecting American jobs.
The latest round of mudslinging by House Republicans in the direction of the White House concerns the Obama administration’s flawed handling of subsidies to Solyndra, the California-based solar-panel manufacturer that went bankrupt last month. American taxpayers are on the hook for $535 million in loan guarantees to Solyndra.
As yet there is no evidence of any crime in the case. All the scandal mongering, however, is definitely tarnishing the public image of the American solar energy industry and the tens of thousands of people it employs.
Both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden praised Solyndra as the poster child for the administration’s new “green jobs” initiative.
Obama even visited Solyndra. “The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra,” he bragged in an attempt to associate himself with a growing business with potential to create manufacturing jobs during a period of high unemployment. The president proclaimed Solyndra was “leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.”
Now that the company is bankrupt the president’s words seem foolish. And there are real questions as to whether the people who ran the company deceived government officials to the point of committing fraud.
But there is zero evidence of any crime by any Obama administration official.
It is true that one of Solyndra’s investors was a major contributor to the president’s 2008 campaign and the White House might have wanted to help him. And it is true that the wife of a key Energy Department official working on the case was a lawyer for Solyndra.
And here is another fact: Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel also joined in the “high-level cheerleading on behalf of Solyndra,” to quote Saturday’s The New York Times, by urging fast approval of the loan. But it is also possible that he was in a rush to create a media event to showcase the company as a shining example of the administration’s job creation efforts.
No matter what Emanuel’s motives, none of it amounts to a crime.
And Solyndra received its loan guarantee under a plan established in 2005 by Republican President George W. Bush. Since its creation, the program has committed more than $30 billion in loan guarantees to projects in 38 states. The government aid led to $40 billion in private investment and has created almost 70,000 jobs.
That is the whole story, end of case.
Nevertheless, Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, vows further investigation into Solyndra and the entire alternative energy sector. "A green jobs-fueled recovery is a theory, and is yet unproven,” he said after one hearing. “There is a lot more green, in the way of cash, and a lot less energy and jobs than anticipated."
"It is reasonable to predict that we could have the collapse of the entire solar panel manufacturing business in America." Issa added.
That is quite a leap. Why is Rep. Issa raising the possible collapse of the entire solar panel manufacturing business in America?
And why are other House Republicans joining this rush to condemn all green energy projects as failures? Last week, Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican who chairs the oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that Solyndra shows “that green energy isn’t going to be the solution.”
This is the point in the story when the GOP hearings begin to look like a take-off on the fanatic police inspector Javert in "Les Miserables." They are so obsessed with discrediting the president that they are condemning the entire solar industry and making themselves into villains.
At a time when unemployment is stubbornly above 9 percent and Congress cannot pass a jobs bill that will get people back to work, the GOP is attacking an industry that employs more than 100,000 Americans. That number has doubled since 2009. And most green energy companies qualify as small businesses.
And with many industries still struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. solar energy industry grew 69 percent in 2010. Compare that to overall GDP growth, which was just 3 percent last year.
As Mark Cooper, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, noted in a column for The Hill, government subsidies for nuclear power have been a far worse investment for Uncle Sam.
Few would argue that the government should be in the business of picking winners and losers – though that ship sailed a long time ago with the parade of bailouts, subsidies and credits that kept Wall Street, the U.S. auto industry and American banks afloat during the heart of the recession.
But when China and several European governments are subsidizing their green energy companies in an attempt to corner the global market there is a good bi-partisan argument to be made that the U.S. government has to help American companies stay in the game. That is especially true when there is evidence those companies are already making money and spurring job growth.
President Obama has low approval ratings these days, but the Solyndra story is an illustration of why approval ratings for congressional Republicans are much lower.