February 26, 2024

Republicans Suggest White House Rushed Solar Loan

In the e-mails, officials at the Office of Management and Budget expressed frustration that they were being put under time pressure to sign off on the loan to the company, Solyndra, two years ago so that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. could announce its approval at a groundbreaking for a factory. The White House wanted an announcement that would show progress on job creation.

The disclosure became a focus of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Wednesday about the loan to Solyndra, which has developed into a political headache for the Obama administration. The administration used the company as a prime example of stimulus bill dollars creating “green jobs.” But Solyndra recently filed for bankruptcy protection and closed its factory, and its headquarters was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, apparently in connection with the loan.

The bankruptcy filing and the raid “clearly show that the committee was more than justified in its scrutiny of the deal,” said the panel’s chairman, Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan. “Why did the administration think Solyndra was such a good bet?”

Critics of the loan have focused on whether political considerations played a role in awarding the loan to Solyndra, which the Obama administration denies. But the hearing also cast doubt on the government’s competence to assess how sure a bet it is making, regardless of politics.

Officials of the Energy Department’s loan office and the White House budget office defended their decisions, which they said were carefully reviewed and not politically inspired. The administration said that the e-mails showed only that the White House wanted to know when a decision would be made for its planning.

“As the e-mails indicate, there was interest in when a decision would be made because of its impact on whether an event involving the vice president could be scheduled for a particular date or not,” said Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman. “But the loan guarantee decision was merit-based and made by career staffers at the Department of Energy, and the process for this particular loan guarantee began under President George W. Bush.”

Suspicions that the administration might have pushed the loan for political reasons have centered on the fact that a major investor in the company is a charitable foundation associated with George B. Kaiser, a billionaire from Tulsa, Okla., who raised $50,000 to $100,000 as a “bundler” for President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Logs show that Mr. Kaiser visited the White House on several occasions during the spring and summer of 2009, while the loan to Solyndra was being considered. Among the officials he met with were the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and Pete Rouse and Valerie Jarrett, both senior advisers to Mr. Obama.

“It seems like crony capitalism was trumping the smart decision-making,” Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, said at the hearing.

Campaign finance records analyzed by OpenSecrets.org show that there were about 235 other bundlers for the Obama campaign in Mr. Kaiser’s range, while about 326 bundlers raised significantly larger sums.

Administration officials said the White House meetings were not about Solyndra but rather were related to Mr. Kaiser’s charitable interest in policy matters like early childhood education. Mr. Kaiser has declined to comment directly about the meetings. But the George Kaiser Family Foundation has said that “he did not participate in any discussions with the U.S. government regarding the loan.”

While Mr. Kaiser’s connection to the Obama campaign and to Solyndra, based in Fremont, Calif., have helped draw attention to the loan, he was not a major topic of discussion at the hearing on Wednesday. Republicans did, however, press those testifying on whether the Solyndra bankruptcy offered proof that the government should not be lending to companies that have trouble raising money from private investors.

“In this time of record debt, I question whether the government is qualified to act as a venture capitalist, picking winners and losers in speculative ventures and shelling out billions of taxpayer dollars to keep them afloat,” Mr. Upton said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=f54511982feeb3d2963122882be134f6

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