iOS app Android app

Sam Stein

The Huffington Post • stein@huffingtonpost.com

 
Sam Stein

BIO

Former McCain Adviser: 'Really Stupid To Blame Solar In General' For Solyndra Failure

October 3, 2011

WASHINGTON -- A host of industry experts, including a former adviser to Sen. John McCain, are urging lawmakers not to stigmatize either green energy or the government's role in promoting it after the abrupt downfall of Solyndra, the now-bankrupt solar equipment manufacturer.

"People ought to resist [demonizing alternative energy] because it's really stupid to blame solar in general for some people not managing a corporation well," said R. James Woolsey, chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the former CIA director under Bill Clinton. "Solar ... keeps getting cheaper and more efficient all the time, and steadily. And I think the folks you see going after solar as a result of all of this, some of them probably have quite a substantial interest in maybe coal or whatever. I think that anybody who follows solar closely realizes how the changes are coming."

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Woolsey, who advised McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, offered a deal for those critics arguing that loan guarantees for alternative energy companies should be eliminated following Solyndra's downfall.

"I would be willing to make this trade," said Woolsey, who has long been an outspoken champion of alternative energy source development. "We won't have subsidies for solar and wind if we pull out every single penny of subsidies to coal and oil, including all of the tax subsidies. Every penny. Take it away, and then let solar and wind do it on their own."

Far from absolving the Obama White House's political management of the Solyndra crisis, Woolsey's comments are simply meant to add a bit of sobriety to the current energy policy debate. At a time when America needs to encourage a diverse set of sources, it's retreating back to the norm.

"'Drill, baby, drill' does nothing to break the oil cartel," said Woolsey.

It's unclear just how much damage Solyndra's scandal has done to the alternative and green energy movements that were built, in part, on the promise to wean America off its oil dependence. In the wake of Solyndra's bankruptcy, small-government conservatives and like-minded lawmakers have suggested scrapping the loan guarantee program that originated under George W. Bush. The more pointed critiques have been directed at the Obama administration for failing to heed recurring warnings about that company's specific standing. On Monday, The New York Times reported on more emails revealing that the White House was concerned Solyndra would collapse even before the president visited its headquarters in May 2010 to tout the $535 million loan guarantee it had received.

Confronted with these internal communications in the past, the administration has chosen a two-pronged pushback, noting the longstanding tradition of Republican lawmakers championing loan guarantees for green-sector companies in their own districts and insisting that, among all companies on which to bet, a solar equipment manufacturer was a morally solid pick.

"No, I don't," President Barack Obama said on Monday when asked by ABC News whether he regretted the loan. "Not every business is going to succeed."

That appeared to be the thinking of the Bush administration as well when the loan guarantee program was established. And on Monday, a top Department of Energy official from that administration acknowledged that he too would have signed off on the Solyndra project, had the choice been up to him.

“I am glad I was not in that chair to get that call, because from what I know of the facts right now, I probably would have made the same decision," said Walter Streight Howes in an interview with Platts Energy Week. The loan guarantee, he added, was a "good gamble."

In hindsight, the gamble wasn't good; it was a bust. And for those who champion alternative and green energy, it has produced the anxiety-inducing prospect that years of public relations work and political persuasion have been undone by the missteps of a single company.

"We may be at a white-hot political moment, but I'm not sure that it will last that long," said an optimistic Paul Bledsoe, a senior adviser with the Bipartisan Policy Center, an influential think tank that works on energy-related policy, among other issues. "Companies fail all the time ... especially in new technologies. I think the more people examine the details here, the more they are going to want to better structure our existing approaches. The opportunity is to examine our current subsidies and find a way to make them work better for less money."

Bledsoe's hope of realigning taxpayer incentives for energy production lies with the congressional super committee tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. Reform that eliminates some tax code expenditures or government subsidies could help level a playing field in which, in FY2010 alone, $2.82 billion went to natural gas and petroleum interests (through direct expenditures, tax expenditures, research and development funds, and loan guarantees), $2.49 billion to nuclear energy interests and $1.13 billion to solar interests.

Leveling the playing field won't be easy, as a horde of industry-financed lobbyists stand ready to protect the carve-outs their clients have long enjoyed. But the larger task facing Woolsey and even some environmentally conscious Republicans may be to persuade voters that the government has a role to play in creating a new energy economy at all.

"Probably the biggest setback is that neither conservatives nor liberals, Republicans nor Democrats, at a very senior policy-making level are dealing with the problem. They're dealing with other problems, but they're not dealing with the key one, I think, which is our oil dependence," said the former CIA director.

Pivoting to solutions, Woolsey noted that the government could "bring antitrust cases and break up cartels" as a way of limiting the stranglehold of foreign oil. But, he added, "there are some things that will have a big advantage over the long run that are worth subsidizing in the near term."

Earlier on HuffPost:

Sam Stein

BIO

White House Talks Job Creation Proposals With Super Committee Members

October 3, 2011

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama pushed Congress again on Monday to bring his American Jobs Act to a vote, promising to "put as much pressure" as he could on lawmakers to act with haste. But with growing recalcitrance among Republicans, resistance among some Democrats and an election season heating up, the prospects for quick action look increasingly slim.

The Democratic leadership is now taking more seriously the possibility that if components of the jobs plan are to be enacted, they'll have to be attached to the recommendations produced by the congressional super committee in charge of finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.

On Monday, the president offered his customary insistence about passing his plan -- which includes major tax cuts to encourage hiring, insurance for the unemployed, and money for infrastructure and school repair -- in an expedient manner.

"It's been several weeks now since I sent up the American Jobs Act, and as I've been saying on the road, I want it back. I'm ready to sign it," he said. "My expectation is, now that we're in the month of October, that we'll schedule a vote before the end of this month. I'll be talking to Senator Reid, [Senator] McConnell, as well as Speaker Boehner and [Representative] Nancy Pelosi, and insisting that we have a vote on this bill."

In a background briefing with reporters before Obama spoke, senior administration officials laid out the case that legislative delay does more damage to the Republicans responsible for holding up the jobs bill than to the bill's primary booster. A Fox News Poll released shortly thereafter appeared to underscore their premise. While 26 percent of respondents thought Obama had helped the economy and 45 percent thought he had hurt it, only 15 percent thought congressional Republicans had helped and 50 percent thought they had hurt the economy.

Still, legislative processes are rarely dictated by polling pressures. And while the president was publicly demanding a vote sometime in October, expectations have been adjusted a touch in private.

Those same senior administration officials said that the White House has been in talks with members of the super committee about both job creation legislation and their work in general. While the officials wouldn't go too far into specifics, they noted that this past summer the president and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had discussed including infrastructure spending, payroll tax cut relief and the extension of unemployment insurance in their proposed "grand bargain."

Obama has already asked the committee to find budget cuts to help cover the $447 billion cost of his jobs package. If he were to push the committee to include the jobs act itself as part of its recommendations, that would up the ante significantly more.

On the one hand, the jobs plan would be granted the same sort of procedural advantages (it can be neither filibustered nor amended) that the super committee's debt and deficit reduction suggestions will receive. On the other, the idea could potentially alienate the committee's six GOP members, who don't want to be seen as providing the critical votes for the president's chief jobs proposal. Seven of the 12 committee members must back the deficit recommendations before they can be sent to Congress.

A senior Democratic aide told The Huffington Post that the party is looking to find a "balanced approach to deficit reduction" that includes "efforts at job creation, most definitely including the president's" jobs plan.

But a top Democratic operative who has been privy to debt and deficit reduction talks on the Hill said it was hardly a given that Obama's jobs plan will find its way into the super committee's recommendations, let alone receive a regular floor vote. That's not because the provision themselves are disagreeable, but because the measures to cover their cost -- namely, eliminating tax deductions for the wealthy, closing loopholes for corporate jet owners, and taxing subsidies for oil and gas companies -- have no cross-party support.

"To put it in the super committee, you would need to have pay-for provisions as well," the operative noted. "Not only can Republicans and Democrats not agree on those pay-fors; Democrats can't agree on those pay-fors."

Sam Stein

BIO

White House Talks Job Creation Proposals With Super Committee Members

October 3, 2011

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama pushed Congress again on Monday to bring his American Jobs Act to a vote, promising to "put as much pressure" as he could on lawmakers to act with haste. But with growing recalcitrance among Republicans, resistance among some Democrats and an election season heating up, the prospects for quick action look increasingly slim.

The Democratic leadership is now taking more seriously the possibility that if components of the jobs plan are to be enacted, they'll have to be attached to the recommendations produced by the congressional super committee in charge of finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.

On Monday, the president offered his customary insistence about passing his plan -- which includes major tax cuts to encourage hiring, insurance for the unemployed, and money for infrastructure and school repair -- in an expedient manner.

"It's been several weeks now since I sent up the American Jobs Act, and as I've been saying on the road, I want it back. I'm ready to sign it," he said. "My expectation is, now that we're in the month of October, that we'll schedule a vote before the end of this month. I'll be talking to Senator Reid, [Senator] McConnell, as well as Speaker Boehner and [Representative] Nancy Pelosi, and insisting that we have a vote on this bill."

In a background briefing with reporters before Obama spoke, senior administration officials laid out the case that legislative delay does more damage to the Republicans responsible for holding up the jobs bill than to the bill's primary booster. A Fox News Poll released shortly thereafter appeared to underscore their premise. While 26 percent of respondents thought Obama had helped the economy and 45 percent thought he had hurt it, only 15 percent thought congressional Republicans had helped and 50 percent thought they had hurt the economy.

Still, legislative processes are rarely dictated by polling pressures. And while the president was publicly demanding a vote sometime in October, expectations have been adjusted a touch in private.

Those same senior administration officials said that the White House has been in talks with members of the super committee about both job creation legislation and their work in general. While the officials wouldn't go too far into specifics, they noted that this past summer the president and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had discussed including infrastructure spending, payroll tax cut relief and the extension of unemployment insurance in their proposed "grand bargain."

Obama has already asked the committee to find budget cuts to help cover the $447 billion cost of his jobs package. If he were to push the committee to include the jobs act itself as part of its recommendations, that would up the ante significantly more.

On the one hand, the jobs plan would be granted the same sort of procedural advantages (it can be neither filibustered nor amended) that the super committee's debt and deficit reduction suggestions will receive. On the other, the idea could potentially alienate the committee's six GOP members, who don't want to be seen as providing the critical votes for the president's chief jobs proposal. Seven of the 12 committee members must back the deficit recommendations before they can be sent to Congress.

A senior Democratic aide told The Huffington Post that the party is looking to find a "balanced approach to deficit reduction" that includes "efforts at job creation, most definitely including the president's" jobs plan.

But a top Democratic operative who has been privy to debt and deficit reduction talks on the Hill said it was hardly a given that Obama's jobs plan will find its way into the super committee's recommendations, let alone receive a regular floor vote. That's not because the provision themselves are disagreeable, but because the measures to cover their cost -- namely, eliminating tax deductions for the wealthy, closing loopholes for corporate jet owners, and taxing subsidies for oil and gas companies -- have no cross-party support.

"To put it in the super committee, you would need to have pay-for provisions as well," the operative noted. "Not only can Republicans and Democrats not agree on those pay-fors; Democrats can't agree on those pay-fors."

10.04.2011 > < 09.30.2011