Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) is the conservative point man on Solyndra. His job is to make sure the controversy is as big a deal as possible and drags on as long as possible. As the chair of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, he’s well positioned to do so.
In the process, he’s managed to say several ridiculous things. On NPR the other day, he said, “We can’t compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines.” That’s gotten a lot of attention, including from President Obama at a press conference on Thursday:
“You know what, I don’t buy that,” Obama said. “I’m not going to surrender to other countries technological leads that determine whether we’re building a strong middle class in this country.”
But what deserves more attention is this line in the NPR story:
[Stearns] says he doesn’t believe in any type of subsidy for industry.
Oh? As it happens, a helpful Dem source compiled some contrary info and sent it my way. Observe:
5/11/11: Rep. Stearns Voted For A Bill That Automatically Approves Permits Within 60 Days If The Interior Department Doesn’t Act On Them. “Republicans voted unanimously for H.R. 1229 (with only four members not voting), which would establish a 60-day maximum deadline for the Interior Department to approve permit applications for drilling, otherwise they would be automatically approved.” [CAP, Accessed 10/4/11; House vote #309, 5/11/2011]
5/5/11: Rep. Stearns Voted Twice Against Measures Aimed At Stripping Oil Subsidies. “In March the House voted against repealing $40 billion in oil subsidies over 10 years. And in May, House Republicans unanimously voted to block consideration of a bill that would prevent the domestic manufacturing tax credit from going to Big Oil.” [CAP, Accessed 10/4/11; House vote #153, 3/1/2011; #293, 5/5/2011]
12/6/07: Rep. Stearns Voted To Preserve $13 Billion in Oil And Gas Subsidies. On December 6, 2007, Stearns voted against the Dingell motion to concur in the Senate amendments to the energy policy bill. The amendment included a $21.5 billion package of tax incentives that would be offset in part by eliminating or reducing $13 billion in subsidies for major oil and gas companies. It also required new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards of 35 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks by 2020, 36 billion gallons of biofuels to be produced and used annually by 2022, electric utilities to produce at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020 and directed the Energy Department to set new energy efficiency standards. The amendment was rejected 235-181. [Vote 1140, HR 6, 12/6/07]
8/4/07: Rep. Stearns Voted Against $16.1 Billion In Renewable Tax Incentives That Were Primarily Funded By Reducing Oil And Gas Subsidies. On August 4, 2007, Stearns voted against passage of a bill to authorize $16.1 billion in energy-related tax incentives, including expanded tax breaks for renewable energy, hybrid cars and energy-efficient buildings and appliances. It authorized $3.6 billion in bonds for state and local governments to fund energy conservation efforts and created a $6 billion “green bond fund” to help local and state governments build energy-efficient projects. The costs were primarily offset by reducing current tax benefits for oil and gas companies. The bill was accepted 221-189. [Vote 835, HR 2776, 8/4/07]
1/18/07: Rep. Stearns Voted Against The “Ending Subsidies For Big Oil Act Of 2007.” The legislation rolled back “$14 billion in subsidies for Big Oil.” [HR 6, 2007; Pelosi Release, 1/18/07; House Vote #40, 1/18/07]
10/26/95: Rep. Stearns Voted To Permit Oil And Gas Production In The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). [Tampa Tribune, 10/20/95; House vote #743, 10/26/95]
7/28/05: Rep. Stearns Was Part Of The Energy Bill Conference Committee That Agreed To “$14-Billion In Subsidies, Mostly To The Oil And Gas Industry.” “Most Florida Democrats are expected to vote against the bill, which includes more than $14-billion in subsidies, mostly to the oil and gas industry. They also say it does too little to encourage alternative energy and conservation. Florida’s two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Mel Martinez, say they plan to vote against the bill because of the inventory, although the bill is expected to pass when it reaches the Senate by Friday. Stearns and Bilirakis represented Florida on the committee that reconciled the differences between the House and Senate versions of the energy bill, and they unsuccessfully tried to kill the inventory early Tuesday. It cannot be cut now. But Barton, the bill’s sponsor in the House, has agreed to allow Stearns to express the Floridians’ concerns during debate tonight. He will also outline hopes for an agreement.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/28/05]
As you can see, Stearns likes many types of subsidies for industry — as long as it’s the oil industry.
Maybe he isn’t even conscious of a contradiction. To Republicans (and many Democrats), oil industry subsidies are just the way of it, a fact of life, American as apple pie. They aren’t special favors so much as … normal favors. The solar industry, however, is a newcomer, an outsider, so any support it gets is highly visible and contested. This is just what happens when the status quo is challenged.