WASHINGTON – A Republican-led House panel voted Thursday to subpoena the White House for records related to Solyndra, the solar company that collapsed after receiving a $528 million loan.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the resolution 14-9 after Democrats tried to delay the vote during a contentious debate.
Democrats argued the resolution was too broad and gave Chairman Fred Upton too much power. But Republicans said a subpoena was necessary because the White House has denied or delayed requests for thousands of documents related to Solyndra.
Upton, a Michigan Republican, said getting White House documents on Solyndra was like "extracting a tooth without anesthesia" -- painful and time-consuming.
The White House immediately slammed the vote, saying it has "cooperated extensively with the committee's investigation by producing over 85,000 pages of documents, including 20,000 pages produced just yesterday afternoon."
"And all of the materials that have been disclosed affirm what we said on Day One: this was a merit-based decision made by the Department of Energy," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
"We'd like to see as much passion in House Republicans for creating jobs as we see in this investigation," he said. "We are disappointed that the committee has refused to discuss their requests with us in good faith, and has instead chosen a partisan route, proceeding with subpoenas that are unprecedented and unwarranted."
Congressional Republicans began investigating Solyndra months before the California company filed for bankruptcy protection in September and laid off 1,100 workers. The bankruptcy proved to be embarrassing for the White House amid revelations that federal officials were warned it had problems but nonetheless continued to support it, and sent President Obama to visit the company and praise it publicly.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee, said the subpoena was necessary because the White House is "slow-walking" all requests for information.
"We want to get to the bottom of this," he said. "What is there about the word 'slow-walk' that the Democrats don't understand?"
Rep. Diana DeGette, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee, said that the subpoena could stymie the investigation if the White House decides to exert executive privilege.
"When you send out such a broad subpoena, it will just delay proceedings even more," she said, adding that she believes Republicans intend to use the investigation for political purposes.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., accused Republicans of hypocrisy because another GOP-led committee voted against his motion to subpoena the executives of oil companies involved in the BP oil spill who refused to appear at a hearing.
"While insisting on full disclosure and complete transparency from the White House on Solyndra, Republicans have put the CEOs from the companies responsible for the worst offshore oil spill in our history into a witness protection program where they are apparently going to be immune from any congressional or public scrutiny," he said.
"This is not about using our subpoena power, this is about fossil fuel and nuclear interests wanting fewer Americans using solar power," he added.
On Wednesday, the government released nearly 1,200 pages of documents that revealed the Obama administration considered a bailout of Solyndra days before it collapsed.
The bailout that would have provided an infusion of cash and a new board of directors, including two directors appointed by the Energy Department.
Officials rejected the plan, which was recommended in August by the investment banking firm Lazard Ltd. Lazard was paid $1 million for analyzing options related to the faltering company.
The bailout plan considered by the Energy Department would have converted much of the U.S. loan to equity in the company worth as much as 40 percent, the emails show.
Lazard was hired to look at Solyndra's financing after the company received a $528 million loan in 2009 and $69 million in private money earlier this year in a restructuring deal approved by the Obama administration. Under the second deal, the private investors moved ahead of U.S. taxpayers in case of a default on the loan, a fact that GOP investigators have sharply criticized.
Without an infusion of new cash, Lazard wrote in an Aug. 17 memo to the Energy Department, Solyndra was almost certain to fail, which would "likely result in little recovery to the DOE." The department rejected the refinancing plan sometime after Aug. 28, and Solyndra shut its doors on Aug. 31.
White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley announced last week that he had ordered an independent review of similar loans made by the Energy Department.
He said the review by former Treasury official Herb Allison would assess the health of more than two dozen other renewable energy loans and loan guarantees made by the Energy Department program that supported Solyndra.
Allison, who oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program, part of the 2008 Wall Street bailout, is not looking at the Solyndra case, officials said. Instead he will evaluate other loans worth tens of billions of dollars and recommend steps to stabilize them if they appear to have similar problems.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said he welcomes the White House review. Chu is scheduled to testify Nov. 17 before the energy panel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.