Those dramatic negotiations between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans on an agreement on the national debt ceiling dominated the headlines this past week, but another clash between the White House and Hill GOPers that is almost as significant was also moving toward a potentially dramatic conclusion.
The main players in this clash include on one side, Obama’s top appointees at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and on the other, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton of Michigan and Rep. Cliff Stearns, the Florida Republican who chairs the Upton panel’s subcommittee on oversight and investigations. At first glance it appears the center of their controversy is the familiar struggle occasioned by congressional oversight. In fact, something more fundamental is at stake.
Here’s the background. Following passage of Obama’s economic stimulus program, the Department of Energy awarded a $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, Inc. for construction of a new manufacturing facility for its propriety solar energy equipment. The March 2009 award was the first by the Energy Department under the stimulus program in Obama’s efforts to greatly increase federal subsidies for clean energy resources. Unfortunately, Solyndra has since encountered major financial difficulties that cast great doubt about its future viability without substantial additional government subsidies. For that reason, beginning in January this year, Upton and Stearns asked officials at OMB and DOE to explain how and why Solyndra was selected, and they requested all of the relevant documents that shed light on the process.
Thereupon Obama’s OMB and DOE appointees embarked on a studied course of evasion and double-talk. While promising full cooperation with the congressional investigation, the administration officials delayed and obfuscated at every turn. Deadlines came and went, promises were made and broken, and frustration grew apace among congressional investigators.
Things came to a head Thursday when the committee voted to issue a subpoena to compel OMB and DOE officials to stop obstructing the congressional investigation by producing the requested documents.
Upton and Stearns are right to insist on full compliance with their document and witness requests. As the Washington Post has reported, one of Solyndra’s key investors was George Kaiser, an Obama campaign contributor. To be sure, Upton and Stearns should determine if that fact have anything to do with DOE’s decision to award Solyndra a federal loan guarantee.