Solyndra is trying to rival her big sister Katrina’s ability to make the federal government look incompetent. But whose baby is she?
Since the solar-energy company went belly-up a few weeks ago — leaving taxpayers on the hook for $535 million in loan guarantees — a business that was once the poster child for President Obama’s green-jobs initiative has instead become a tool for Republicans to discredit most everything the administration seeks to do.
Dana Milbank writes a regular column on politics.
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah used Solyndra to argue against worker-training benefits. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina used it to argue that the federal government should stay out of autism research. Disaster relief, cancer treatments, you name it: Solyndra has been an argument against them.
And this week, the government faced the prospect of a shutdown because House Republicans added a provision to the spending bill to draw more attention to — what else? — Solyndra.
“Because of some of the horrible weather we have had over the past several weeks, we have all agreed to add emergency funds we didn’t originally plan in this bill, and Republicans have identified a couple of cuts,” explained Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, including “a cut to a loan-guarantee program that gave us the Solyndra scandal.”
What McConnell neglected to mention is that Solyndra was cleared to participate in this loan-guarantee program by President George W. Bush’s administration. He also did not mention that the legislation creating the loan-guarantee program, approved by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2005, received yes votes from — wait for it — DeMint, Hatch and McConnell.
This doesn’t mean that Bush is to blame for Solyndra or that the Obama administration should be absolved. Obama, whose administration gave the company the loan guarantee, deserves the black eye that Republicans have given him over the half a billion dollars squandered on the company. But the Republican paternity of the program that birthed Solyndra suggests some skepticism is in order when many of those same Republicans use Solyndra as an example of all that is wrong with Obama’s governance.
“Loan guarantees aim to stimulate investment and commercialization of clean energy technologies to reduce our nation’s reliance on foreign sources of energy,” Bush’s energy secretary, Sam Bodman, announced in a press release on Oct. 4, 2007. The release said the Energy Department had received 143 pre-applications for the guarantees and narrowed the list down to 16 finalists — including Solyndra. Bodman said the action put “Americans one step closer to being able to use new and novel sources of energy on a mass scale to reduce emissions and allow for vigorous economic growth and increased energy security.”
Bush’s Energy Department apparently adjusted its regulations to make sure that Solyndra would be eligible for the guarantees. It hadn’t originally contemplated including the photovoltaic-panel manufacturing that Solyndra did but changed the regulation before it was finalized. The only project that benefited was Solyndra’s.