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Solyndra case underscores flaws in 'stimulus act'

Posted: October 14, 2011 5:29 p.m.
Updated: October 17, 2011 5:00 a.m.

If anyone needs more proof that the White House sold us a bill of goods when it pressured Congress to pass the “stimulus” act of 2009, just look at what has happened with Solyndra Inc.

Those who’ve been following the news lately probably know that Solyndra was a California solar energy company that’s just filed for bankruptcy protection after receiving a half-billion dollar government loan under the stimulus act. The bankruptcy, of course, is terrible news for taxpayers.

Solyndra’s top execs were politically well-connected, and “green energy” from sources like the solar panels being produced by Solyndra was a popular stump speech for the president. As I write this, Congress is investigating whether the Obama Administration, in its rush to reward favored constituencies with stimulus funds, turned a blind eye to the risks associated with the government-backed loan to this company. Some have said that, despite known concerns about the company’s business model, the U.S. Department of Energy was pressured by the Administration to rush and approve the loan. Why? The vice president was on the schedule to participate in a groundbreaking for Solyndra’s new headquarters, which would give him a backdrop to tout all the “green jobs” being created by the stimulus bill President Obama had rushed through Congress a few months earlier.

According to media reports, a U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee investigating this matter is having a tough time discovering facts about the decision-making process that was used in awarding Solyndra the loan. Solynda’s two top officials showed up at the subcommittee’s Sept. 23 hearing, but they refused to testify.

The details I just mentioned are all I know about the situation, and I certainly don’t have any personal knowledge of whether the White House is guilty of using improper influence in the Solyndra matter.

But I do have first-hand insights into stimulus spending. And what I can tell you -- and what I’ve said to anyone who would listen since this bill passed -- is that the stimulus bill wasn’t actually designed to stimulate the economy … it was a spending bill designed first and foremost to steer funding to programs the administration favored. The economic downturn was simply used as an excuse to spend money we don’t really have on things we don’t really need.

Shortly after the stimulus passed in 2009, my office developed a system to track every dollar of these federal funds as they made their way through our state’s coffers and post this information on the Web. (In 2008, we introduced a Transparency Web Site to post the monthly spending details of state agencies, and we decided to extend our effort to let people see how stimulus funds are being used.)  Today, we still post these monthly details and at the time of this writing nearly $4.5 billion in federal stimulus funds have been spent by state government.

In the process of tracking these federal dollars for the purpose of putting these reports online, I’ve spent dozens of hours -- maybe even hundreds -- pouring over individual stimulus expenditures. From my standpoint, much of the spending … perhaps even most of it …  is on things that have nothing at all to do with really stimulating the economy and creating jobs.

The federal stimulus preserved a number of government jobs and it even created new ones.  But that’s a far cry from what Americans were promised. The stimulus failed, a fact that is supported by our nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate. And the reason it failed is because, rather than recognizing that our economic slowdown was an opportunity to implement policies that are known to create growth, it was used as an opportunity to satisfy the spending urges of the White House and of some in Congress.

So when I see officials in Washington who two-and-a-half years ago supported this terrible bill now express shock that a politically-favored recipient of stimulus funds has gone under, forgive me if I’m a little skeptical. When Washington had an opportunity to act with common-sense to truly rejuvenate the economy by reining-in government spending in order to give tax cuts to leave more money in the private sector … politicians chose instead to continue their long-standing practice of indiscriminate government spending and calling it “economic recovery.” We are in worse shape today because they did.

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