FREMONT (CBS SF) – A Republican-led House panel on Thursday agreed to subpoena the White House for documents related to Solyndra Inc., the failed California solar company that received a half-billion-dollar federal loan.
A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee voted 14-9 along party lines to authorize subpoenas of top White House officials. GOP lawmakers say the subpoenas are necessary because the White House has denied or delayed requests for thousands of documents related to Solyndra. The Fremont, Calif., company received a $528 million federal loan before filing for bankruptcy protection and laying off 1,100 workers.
Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said getting White House documents on Solyndra was like “extracting a tooth without anesthesia” — painful and time-consuming.
“I wish it had not come to this, but it has,” said Upton, R-Mich., who called the White House “downright obstructionist” on Solyndra.
Democrats called the solar loan subpoena an overreach.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., called the vote “an act of irresponsible partisanship” and a “political sideshow” that obscures the real issues in the Solyndra debacle.
DeGette and other Democrats said the vote amounted to a “fishing expedition” that grants Upton broad powers to issue subpoenas as he sees fit.
It was the second time in two days that a House panel authorized a subpoena of administration documents. On Wednesday, a House Judiciary subcommittee authorized its chairman to subpoena Department of Homeland Security documents on deportations of illegal immigrations.
Upton, who met with White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler on Wednesday, said he will take into account recent White House attempts to provide the committee with documents as he considers whether to issue a subpoena.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the Obama administration was disappointed in the GOP vote, adding that committee leaders have “refused to discuss their requests with us in good faith,” instead choosing “a partisan route, proceeding with subpoenas that are unprecedented and unwarranted.”
Schultz said the administration has “cooperated extensively” with the committee’s investigation by producing more than 85,000 pages of documents, including 20,000 pages produced Wednesday. Administration officials also have participated in multiple briefings and hearings on Solyndra, he said.
“All of the materials that have been disclosed affirm what we said on Day One: This was a merit-based decision made by the Department of Energy,” Schultz said. “We’d like to see as much passion in House Republicans for creating jobs as we see in this investigation.”
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the energy panel’s senior Democrat and former chairman, said a subpoena can only be justified if Congress and the executive branch have reached an unbridgeable impasse, which he said he didn’t see.
“Apparently what the committee really wants is a confrontation with the president, not information,” Waxman said.
But Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the energy panel’s subcommittee on oversight and investigations, said an impasse had been reached.
“The administration seems to think that if they drag this out, we will give up and simply go away. But we won’t,” Stearns said.
Congressional Republicans have been investigating Solyndra’ s bankruptcy amid embarrassing revelations that federal officials were warned it had problems but nonetheless continued to support it and sent President Barack Obama to visit the company and praise it publicly.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who is scheduled to testify before the full committee later this month, acknowledged Thursday the loan program needed work but said he wasn’t “ready to throw in the towel on clean energy.”
Chu, speaking at an energy conference held by The Washington Post, said, “There is no reason to sit on the sidelines and concede on clean energy.” But, he noted, Congress and the administration “can design a better loan program.”
Among the 1,200 pages of documents the administration released Wednesday were details of a bailout plan considered by the Energy Department that would have provided an infusion of cash to Solyndra and part-ownership of the company by the government.
Officials rejected the plan, which was recommended in August by the investment banking firm Lazard Ltd. Lazard was paid $1 million for analyzing options related to Solyndra.
Without an infusion of new cash, Lazard wrote in an Aug. 17 memo to the Energy Department, Solyndra was almost certain to fail, which would “likely result in little recovery to the DOE.” The department rejected the refinancing plan sometime after Aug. 28, and Solyndra shut its doors on Aug. 31.
The White House announced last week it had ordered an independent review of similar loans made by the Energy Department. The review by former Treasury official Herb Allison will assess the health of more than two dozen other renewable energy loans and loan guarantees made by the Energy Department program that supported Solyndra.
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)