"The Stimulus Was Riddled with Fraud, Pork, and Solyndra-Style Boondoggles."
No. Experts had warned that 5 percent of the stimulus could be lost to fraud, but investigators have documented less than $10 million in losses -- about 0.001 percent. "It's been a giant surprise," Earl Devaney, the legendary federal watchdog who oversaw the stimulus as head of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, told me. "We don't get involved in politics, but whether you're a Democrat, Republican, communist, whatever, you've got to appreciate that the serious fraud just hasn't happened."
The Porkulus attacks are particularly brazen, because the usual definition of "pork" is an earmark for a specific project inserted by a specific legislator, and the Recovery Act was the first spending bill in decades with no earmarks. There were a few quasi-earmarks, most notably the $1 billion FutureGen clean-coal project inserted by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, but they paled in comparison to the 6,376 earmarks stuffed into President George W. Bush's last transportation bill. Most of the supposedly wasteful spending singled out by Republicans was never in the stimulus (like "mob museums"), was removed from the stimulus (like "smoking cessation funds"), or wildly distorted something in the stimulus (like an alleged $248 million outlay for "government furniture," which was actually a project to build a new Department of Homeland Security headquarters that would have furniture in it).
Still … Solyndra! The California solar firm that went belly up after receiving a half-billion-dollar stimulus loan has become the Republican Party's one-word response to any stimulus-related achievement. It's supposedly a case study in ineptitude, cronyism, and the failure of green industrial policy. Republicans investigated for a year, held more than a dozen hearings, and subpoenaed hundreds of thousands of documents, but they uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing. "Is there a criminal activity? Perhaps not," the lead Republican investigator, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Politico. "Is there a political influence and connections? Perhaps not."
Solyndra was a start-up that failed. It happens. In early 2009, Solyndra and its revolutionary cylindrical solar panels were the toast of Silicon Valley, raising $1 billion from elite investors like the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, Oklahoma oil magnate George Kaiser, and British mogul Richard Branson. Kaiser was an Obama fundraiser, but the Waltons were Republican donors; as Issa acknowledged, there was no evidence of any improper political influence. In fact, the Bush administration fully embraced Solyndra and tried to fast-track its loan. The loan program originally had bipartisan support; the goal was to help firms like Solyndra cross the so-called Valley of Death for innovative technologies with major start-up and scale-up costs. Some loans would go bust, but that's why Congress provided loan reserves, enough to cover plenty of Solyndra-sized failures. Several independent reviews have found no danger that taxpayers will be on the hook for more losses.
Solyndra's failure is often described as a failure of the solar industry, but in fact it's just the opposite. Solyndra produced efficient but pricey panels; the company was essentially a bet that solar power would remain expensive. Instead, the price of solar has crashed by more than two-thirds since 2009, partly because of the stimulus but also because the Chinese government dumped $30 billion into its own solar manufacturers. In any case, the collapsing prices that doomed Solyndra reflect an industry on a roll; U.S. solar installations soared from 290 megawatts in 2008 to 1,855 megawatts in 2011, and 7,000 megawatts of new projects were proposed in the two months before Solyndra went bust -- the equivalent of seven new nuclear reactors.
The latest bogus Republican attacks -- obviously in response to accusations that Romney outsourced jobs at Bain & Co. -- have accused Obama of outsourcing jobs in clean-energy industries through the stimulus. In fact, the stimulus insourced jobs. For example, it brought the U.S. wind industry back from the dead, creating manufacturing as well as installation jobs. In 2006, the United States imported 80 percent of the components in its wind turbines; after the stimulus, that fell to 40 percent. Yes, many of those new factories are foreign-owned, but they put Americans to work; it really doesn't matter whose name is on the corporate polo shirts. The Spanish company Iberdrola delayed wind farms in Illinois and Texas after the global economy collapsed in 2008; the day after the stimulus passed, the company announced it would pour $6 billion back into U.S. wind projects.
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