In hyping the Solyndra faux scandal, Republicans have gone after the loan-guarantee program with guns blazing. It is, they charge, an example of big government trying to “pick winners.” And by golly they just can’t support big government picking winners!
Except, uh, turns out they can. In their haste to condemn everything connected to Obama, Republicans have stepped on a bit of a rake. After all, history — recent history! — is replete with examples of Republicans pushing for loan guarantees for energy businesses in their districts. (I poked a bit of fun at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.] and Rep. Cliff Stearns [R-Fla.] over this stuff.)
Having stumbled into this thicket of hypocrisy, Republicans are now flailing about, trying to free themselves. It ain’t pretty.
Take House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). A company called USEC wants to build a uranium-enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio. It can’t raise enough private capital on its own, so it needs a loan guarantee from the government. Boehner has been vigorously advocating for the company … picking it, you might say, as a winner.
How is this different from what Obama did with Solyndra? Take it away, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel:
This is not politically motivated ‘stimulus’ spending. It is a sensible, bipartisan energy project that President Obama promised elected officials in both parties that he would support, but is now dragging his feet.
Your loan guarantees: politically motivated stimulus spending. Our loan guarantees: sensible, bipartisan energy projects. Got it.
Or take Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who hasn’t shut up about Solyndra since the day it declared bankruptcy. On Fox News Sunday, of all places, he was asked about a loan guarantee that he has been hassling the Department of Energy to approve. Here’s the exchange:
Wallace: You are saying — you were saying in the case of Aptera, which is one of the companies, you’re saying to the federal Energy Department, “Give them a federal loan guarantee.”
Issa: Not give them a loan guarantee. Our letter actually recognized, and by the way, their loan has never processed. It expired without them getting it. What we were —
Wallace: I’m not saying you were successful. I’m just saying you tried.
Issa: But the request was, they have a loan application and would you please give them a yes or no — and that’s a big difference. A lot of loans went in and these people spent money processing and they never heard.
So according to Issa, he’s just asking DOE to make a decision, a yes or no — not, you know, suggesting what the decision should be. Not picking winners.
Except, as FactCheck.org notes, that’s bullsh*t. Of course Issa advocated for DOE to approve the loan — he said so in the first sentence of his 2010 letter to the agency! Here are the excerpts FactCheck pulls out:
I write to express my support of Aptera Motors’ application for a loan under the Department of Energy’s 136 Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program (ATVMIP). Funding will allow Aptera to establish U.S. manufacturing facilities for the commercial production of its plug-in and hybrid electric cars. … Awarding this opportunity to Aptera Motors will greatly assist a leading developer of electric vehicles in my district. …
Aptera’s project will also promote domestic job creation throughout California as well as in other states. …
I urge you to give Aptera Motors’ Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program funding application full consideration.
So Issa supports a loan guarantee to this cleantech company because it will create jobs. How is that different from Solyndra? Here’s Issa’s defense: “Letters don’t mean very much.” Uh … well OK then!
My favorite, though, has to be Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Southern Co.). At a hearing on Solyndra last month, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) noted at length that the nuclear industry has gotten enormous loan guarantees for years. Indeed, it was nuclear-industry concerns that led DOE to develop the option of putting private investors first in line for payback — the very thing Republicans are now saying was illegal in Solyndra’s case. In particular, Markey called out a nuclear loan guarantee to Southern Company that’s 15 times larger than the one to Solyndra.
Gingrey … well, you have to see the video. The only place I could find it was on Chris Hayes’ (excellent) new MSNBC show. In this video from last Saturday’s episode, fast-forward to the 29-minute mark and watch:
This might be the most revealing clip I’ve seen since this Solyndra hubbub started. Gingrey just seems startled, incredulous, that anyone could compare his favored company to some dirty hippie solar company. Tim Carney puts it well:
Gingrey, of Georgia, didn’t like Markey “comparing Solyndra, this bankrupt company, totally unproven technology, to the Southern Company.” Gingrey pointed out that “Southern Company owns Mississippi Power, Alabama Power, Georgia Power, among others, and employs literally thousands of people.”
The implication was clear: Federal subsidies to big, established companies are fine. It’s the handouts to these upstarts that are objectionable.
Carney and I disagree about loan guarantees and much else. But he and I can agree across party lines that Republicans are making jackasses of themselves over this thing.