House GOP hopes ‘Solyndra economy’ becomes Obama's political epitaph

One year after it began, House Republicans are not letting up in their investigation of the $535 million loan guarantee to the failed solar firm Solyndra.

Though the probe has not uncovered evidence of cronyism at the White House, the GOP sees an election-year advantage in pummeling President Obama on Solyndra, and hopes to turn it into a symbol of what they say is a failed administration.

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House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans marked the Solyndra investigation’s one-year anniversary on Friday with a new catch-phrase they hope will follow the president on the campaign trail: “the Solyndra economy.”

They argue that the Solyndra loan guarantee is emblematic of the president’s heavy-handed approach to job creation. Republicans say they are the champions of the “Keystone economy,” named for the proposed Alberta-to-Texas oil pipeline that the GOP strongly supports. 

“Solyndra and Keystone represent what’s at stake this November,” Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) said Friday during a press conference on Solyndra. “Two very different visions — I think Solyndra and Keystone typify them.”

Republicans tied the one-year anniversary of the Solyndra probe to the three-year anniversary of Obama signing the stimulus law. The Solyndra loan guarantee was issued under an Energy Department program that was expanded under the stimulus.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) called Solyndra the “most famous example” of the “failed” stimulus effort.

Solyndra filed for bankruptcy and laid off 1,100 workers in September, about two years after receiving a $535 million taxpayer-backed loan guarantee from the administration.

Over the course of their investigation, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have alleged that the administration granted the Solyndra loan to please Obama campaign donors associated with the company.

Republicans have been unable to unearth evidence to support that claim. Still, GOP investigators have amassed more than 185,000 pages of Solyndra documents from the administration, some of which are embarrassing for the White House.

That includes internal emails that show administration officials raised questions about issuing the loan guarantee in 2009 and then restructuring it in February 2011.

The White House has called the probe a “fishing expedition,” blasting the GOP for its continued effort to seek documents and mine new angles.

“Republicans’ allegation of political favoritism is as unfounded today as it was a year ago when they started this investigation,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement. “Yet, despite no evidence to support their accusations — or perhaps because of it — the Committee continues to demand more materials with no real relevance to the Energy Department’s decision making on the loan.”

The committee launched the latest part of its investigation Friday, alleging that Energy Secretary Steven Chu advocated for approval of a $1.4 billion partial loan guarantee for a rooftop solar project last year to boost the struggling solar panel maker Solyndra.

In a letter Friday to Chu, top committee Republicans excerpted a series of emails and internal communications that they say show the Energy Department pushing for the $1.4 billion loan guarantee to Prologis for a large-scale rooftop solar project known as Project Amp.

Solyndra was slated to provide panels for the first stage of that project, according to Republicans.

“We have questions about Solyndra’s involvement in Project Amp, and what role Solyndra’s involvement played in DOE’s decision to issue a conditional commitment to Prologis for the project,” said the letter, which asked Chu to provide the committee with all communications regarding the loan guarantee.

The Energy Department strongly rejected Republicans' allegations Friday, insisting that Chu's support for the project had nothing to do with Solyndra.

Energy spokesman Damien LaVera took aim at the GOP Solyndra probe.

“As has consistently been the case in course of this committee’s year-long political investigation, critics of our effort to support innovative, job-creating clean energy projects will say anything to distort the record," he said in a statement.

Over the course of the year-long probe, Republicans have issued two subpoenas. The committee’s investigative panel voted last July to subpoena the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for documents related to the 2009 Solyndra loan guarantee. GOP lawmakers then voted in November to subpoena the White House for all its Solyndra communications.

Republicans have alleged that the White House has not been responsive enough to the November subpoena. They threatened last week to pursue contempt charges against the White House if officials do not provide additional Solyndra documents by Feb. 21.

The White House insists that it has been responsive, turning over 313 pages of internal emails earlier this month. The White House had previously sent 200 pages of documents in response to the subpoena, as well as more than 1,000 pages sent before the subpoena was issued.

Federal agencies, including the Energy Department and OMB, have separately sent the committee more than 180,000 pages of documents.

The White House, under the threat of contempt charges, provided the committee with 463 more pages of documents Friday.

Separately, Republicans threatened this week to subpoena executive branch officials to compel them to sit for interviews with committee staff. But the White House ultimately agreed to the interviews, and lawmakers canceled the subpoena vote.