As President Barack Obama takes to the road to sell his Stimulus II, troubling news about the last stimulus continues to break.The House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee Wednesday begins its investigation of Solyndra, the stimulus-funded solar energy company that recently declared bankruptcy. The company, which laid off 1,100 workers after its sudden demise, once looked like the poster-child of stimulus success. “The true engine of economic growth,” the president said in May 2010 while at the company’s California headquarters, “will always be companies like Solyndra.” It’s no wonder the economy is stalled.
Digging beneath the surface, the situation gets more troubling. The White House’s relationship with Solyndra, it turns out, was a mix of corporate favoritism, big-money politics, liberal ideology and Chicago-style deal making. As the Obama administration dealt favors, the American taxpayers got stuck with the $535 million bill.
Before Congress considers stimulus II, the Obama White House must answer for its reckless handling of stimulus I. It began in 2009. After passage of the stimulus that was to keep unemployment below 8 percent (now 9.1 percent), Solyndra received the first taxpayer-backed “green energy” loan guarantee. The administration was so enthralled with the chance to fund such a company that it fast-tracked the approval — bypassing critical oversight steps — and then announced the loan with much fanfare.
One of Solyndra’s major investors had been a fundraising bundler for the 2008 Obama campaign. And those donations bought more than just a sweet loan deal. Over two years, company officials visited the West Wing at least 20 times. Solyndra’s chief executive officer, Brian Harrison, met with the president himself in December 2010. The Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan watchdog agency, determined that Solyndra received “favorable treatment” from Obama’s Department of Energy. Despite this treatment — or more likely because of it — Solyndra continued on a path toward bankruptcy. But the White House, blinded by favoritism, chose to ignore the warnings. And there were plenty of them. Weeks before the president’s now infamous speech at Solyndra headquarters, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers said there was “substantial doubt” about the company’s viability.
House Republicans in June attempted to hold a hearing on the loan guarantee program, but the White House refused to testify. Now, investigations by the FBI and the Energy Department inspector general are uncovering even more evidence of excessive negligence — made all the more troubling by the fact that Obama administration officials were at Solyndra board meetings. Today, in the middle of this scandal, the president is asking the American people to throw good money after bad with a “jobs plan” that is a combination of old ideas and new “stimulus.” But there is a question that should be on every American’s mind: After wasting $535 million on one green energy company, how can we trust you to manage another $447 billion? How will more of the same be any different? The White House, which prides itself on being the “most transparent” in history, must prove that this time is different — lest it seal its reputation as the least accountable in history. It should release the details of all those White House visits from Solyndra officials and explain the nature of the Obama administration’s presence at company meetings. Obama should admit what the American people long ago realized: He failed us with the first stimulus. As unemployment skyrocketed past the promised ceiling of 8 percent, that became abundantly clear. Solyndra’s demise is yet another painful reminder of just why it failed so miserably. When politics, business and government mix in this way, no one wins. The sooner America learns this, the sooner we can find real answers to our economic woes. Until then, the president’s solutions will very likely create only more problems.
Back in 2009, as Vice President Joe Biden announced Solyndra’s loan guarantee, he declared that Solyndra’s deal represented “exactly what the Recovery Act is all about.”