By Ben Geman - 05/30/12 04:26 PM EDT
Solyndra and Bain Capital have become the battleground on which President Obama and Mitt Romney are warring over who would best lead the U.S. economy.
Obama's top aides on Wednesday, for a second day in a row, sought to prevent Romney's attacks on the bankrupt, taxpayer-backed solar company Solyndra from overshadowing the Obama campaign's criticism of Romney's private-equity background.
Romney claims his private-sector background makes him well-suited to improve the economy and that Obama's lack of experience in the private sector makes him ill-equipped to lead the country through a painfully slow economic recovery. Obama made the wrong choices in his time at the White House, Romney argues, something exemplified by his decision to give taxpayer funds to Solyndra.
Obama's campaign argues Romney learned the wrong lessons from his years at Bain Capital, where he was more focused on creating wealth for investors than creating jobs. The campaign has run ads highlighting companies purchased by Bain that failed.
Obama aides argue Romney's attacks on Solyndra are short-sighted, since investments in green energy are key to U.S. competitiveness in a market of the future.
The debate was highlighted Wednesday when Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, said White House green-energy investments created almost a quarter-million jobs.
“Let’s compare that to what Mitt Romney did with Bain Capital. Mitt Romney’s role at Bain Capital was to make profits for his investors and for himself. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not about job creation, and it certainly does not qualify you to be the financial wizard that you claim to be,” Cutter said on MSNBC.
“When he went into these deals, he went in for one reason: to create a profit for himself and for his investors. As a result of that, there were winners and losers, but Mitt Romney always won, but workers lost their jobs, their pensions, their healthcare benefits, companies went bankrupt, communities were devastated, all because Mitt Romney wanted to make a profit,” Cutter added.
Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney, returned fire on the same MSNBC program Wednesday, accusing Obama of “picking winners and losers” with a politicized green-energy loan program the Romney campaign and GOP super-PACS are dubbing "public equity."
“President Obama thinks that politicians can make a better decision of how to grow our economy than people in the private sector and the real-world economy,” she said.
The White House has struggled at times to defend its support for Solyndra, the California manufacturer of advanced solar panels that collapsed in 2011 after receiving a $535 million Energy Department loan guarantee in 2009.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday sought to draw distinctions between Romney’s private-equity career and the financial struggles that some taxpayer-backed green-energy companies have faced.
But he acknowledged it was inevitable that some public investments would not succeed, an argument Romney has made about investments in private equity.
Republicans’ use of Solyndra to counter Democratic claims that Bain Capital was a predatory shop that killed jobs dates back months. But the Bain-Solyndra tussle burst into wide view on Tuesday.
Romney’s campaign released a Web video that went after Solyndra and financial woes of other federally backed companies.
The Romney ad didn’t wade directly into the campaign’s criticism of Bain, but the question of who is the more capable economic steward is a subtext of the fight.
That subtext became overt with a separate ad released Tuesday by the Republican super-PAC American Crossroads, which is trying to flip the script on the Obama campaign's repeated attacks on Romney's private-equity past.
American Crossroads, the outside spending group affiliated with Karl Rove, released a video blasting the president for his "failed investment strategies" with public funds, including the now-bankrupt Solyndra.
"Obama's attacking private equity, but what's his record on public equity investing?" asks a narrator in the video.
American Crossroads, in a sign of the new currency of the Solyndra-Bain matter, quickly responded to Cutter’s MSNBC appearance Wednesday.
"President Obama can get nasty on private equity, but let’s look at the President’s failed record at public equity investing. Obama’s investment decisions were infused with politics, based on political optics and not workers’ fates, and the administration chose winners and losers — all while taxpayers held the bag," the group said.