WASHINGTON -- One of the Republican Party's lead campaign groups tried to turn the Solyndra failure into an election issue Tuesday, accusing President Obama and Democrats of creating a "green casino" to gamble taxpayer money -- ignoring the program's creation by GOP lawmakers.
Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that got a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, went bankrupt last month and was raided by the FBI.
It's been a major embarrassment to the Obama administration, which oversaw the last steps of the guarantee and granted it in spite of internal debate over Solyndra's prospects. And Friday emails released to congressional investigators revealed that a Department of Energy official sent dozens of messages about the guarantee even though he had officially recused himself because his wife worked for Solyndra's law firm.
So Republicans have been exploiting the ugly issue, with National Republican Congressional Committee Tuesday distributing a press release that left out the fact that the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program was launched by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, created under the auspices of Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). And the Solyndra application was started by the Bush administration, which selected Solyndra as one of the 16 most promising green energy programs in the country.
Yet, the NRCC headlined its press release "The Democrats’ 'Green' Casino," and quoted Obama saying the loan program was created by Democrats.
The campaign team also charged: "Defending his administration’s failed loan to now-bankrupt Solyndra, President Obama claimed last week that the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program was designed by Democrats in Congress to 'take bets' with taxpayer money, a role he evidently favors for the federal government."
In fact, at the Oct. 6 press conference cited by Republicans, Obama said that the program predated his administration and the it was not just a Democratic creation. "This is a loan guarantee program that predates me that historically has had support from Democrats and Republicans as well," Obama said.
He did acknowledge that the bipartisan vision for the program involved the government backing risky ventures in hopes of ensuring valuable, job-creating technologies are created in the United States.
"We knew from the start that the loan guarantee program was going to entail some risk, by definition. If it was a risk-free proposition, then we wouldn’t have to worry about it," Obama said. He added later, "That’s exactly what the loan guarantee program was designed by Congress to do -- was to take bets on these areas where we need to make sure that we’re maintaining our lead."
But the NRCC blames only Democrats. "If taxpayers have learned anything from this fiasco, it’s not to trust Democrats with their money," the press release argued.
NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay stood by the statement. "Democrats are the only party in this who rushed through the loan for Solyndra knowing that the company was headed for collapse and continued to waste taxpayer money throughout the process," Lindsay said. "The president falsely claims that the purpose of the law was to place bets with taxpayer dollars, and there’s not a single American who wants their hard-earned money treated like poker chips in a casino."
In his defense, Lindsay pointed to a fact-check story that declared Obama wrong in saying the program predated him. It highlights that the guarantee signed off on by the Obama administration had been added to a section of the 2005 law that was amended by the 2009 stimulus bill, which was passed by Democrats. The Solyndra project was shifted to the stimulus bill in 2009, along with the other Bush administration alternative energy projects, when the loan program was expanded. However, Solyndra's original loan guarantees were in fact first offered by the Bush administration -- and reported on -- in 2008.
“We’re borrowing money directly from the federal [government] at very attractive rates at a time when I think it would be impossible to raise regular financing anywhere else,” Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet told the San Francisco Business Journal in December 2008. The Solyndra project was shifted to the stimulus bill in 2009, along with all the other Bush administration alternative energy projects.