Solyndra unraveling White House credibility

“If you guys think this is a bad idea, I need to unwind the W[est] W[ing] QUICKLY.” So said Vice President Joe Biden’s then-chief of staff Ron Klain in an email about President Barack Obama’s impending $535 million loan guarantee to California solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, on March 7, 2009. In fact, some officials in the Obama administration thought the Solyndra loan was a lousy idea. “This deal is NOT ready for prime time,” a White House budget analyst emailed three days later.

Documents made public Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee show why: An Energy Department analysis of Solyndra’s business model performed two years ago predicted that the firm would run out of money in September 2011. But that fact was ignored by the president and his political advisers who wanted a “green jobs” photo op, no matter the cost. The result was, as an Energy Department analyst said in another email, “given the time pressure we are under to sign off on Solyndra, we don’t have time to change the model.”

But while career staffers at Energy were trying to stop the Solyndra loan, Obama appointees in the White House were determined to push it through as fast as possible. An assistant to then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel asked in yet another email if “there is anything we can help speed along on [the Office of Management and Budget] side.”

And sped along the Solyndra loan was, as the firm received half a billion dollars under economic stimulus program funds. Unfortunately for taxpayers, just as officials at the Energy Department predicted, Solyndra did run out of money earlier this month, bankruptcy followed, and 1,100 green jobs vanished.

Dense clouds of toxic smoke are billowing from these Solyndra emails. If this is the level of due diligence the White House performed on the president’s signature green job investment, nobody should be surprised that voters question the legitimacy of his other massive spending programs. This is the kind of exposure that Obama cannot afford to suffer right now. The Democratic polling firm Third Way released a memo this week showing that 78 percent of “switchers” (Obama voters who voted Republican in 2010) believe Democrats are not “responsible with taxpayer dollars.”

How have Obama appointees responded to Solyndra’s failure? As usual, they’ve obstructed the congressional investigation so vigorously that a congressional subpoena had to be issued to obtain important documents. They’ve sought to distract attention away from it with stunts like Biden’s White House announcement yesterday of “new anti-waste and fraud” measures for Medicaid that he claimed would save $2 billion. And — surprise! — they’ve blamed President George W. Bush. At Wednesday’s Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing, DOE Loan Chief Jonathan Silver argued that the Solyndra loan initiative was begun by the Bush administration. In fact, less than two weeks before Bush left office, the Energy Department’s credit committee unanimously decided not to fund Solyndra.

By the way, the Energy Department announced another $1.2 billion in solar-firm loans this week.

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