DOE

GOP, Dems spar again over loans as Chu testifies before House panel

For all the talk over possible "smoking guns" that might show some wrongdoing on the part of the Obama administration on Solyndra or another Department of Energy loan, one House Republican acknowledged yesterday that multiple GOP probes on the subject are in some ways a play for votes on Election Day.

In an interview after as he left yet another hearing in which Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified about the controversial loan program for clean energy companies, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said that -- smoking gun or not -- Republicans are finding value in drawing attention to the more controversial aspects of the loan guarantee program.

"Our staff will continue to dig into it and see," Jordan said. "But what I hope happens is we stop doing these kind of things ... this whole cronyism approach to the marketplace.

"Ultimately, we'll stop it on Election Day, hopefully. And bringing attention to these things helps the voters and citizens of the country make the kind of decision that I hope helps them as they evaluate who they are going to vote for in November."

That's not to say that Jordan, a senior Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which spent three hours yesterday taking testimony from Chu, has given up on bringing charges against someone in DOE or elsewhere in the Obama administration over the program.

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Among the accusations being made by Republicans is that White House officials improperly interfered with the loan guarantee program so they could direct funds toward political allies and campaign contributors. Republicans also say Chu violated the Energy Policy Act of 2005 when he decided to subordinate $75 million of taxpayer money behind cash from private investors in a last-ditch effort to prop up the failing solar-equipment manufacturer Solyndra.

"If you find that and if it's there, if there was a true legal, ethical violation, then of course that individual has to suffer the full consequences of taking that action," Jordan said. "But if you don't find that, there's still value in showing how ridiculous the conduct was even if it did fall short of crossing some ethical line."

Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) offered a less political take on the point of his committee's investigation of the loan program and several other DOE projects that were funded by $35 billion in stimulus funds given to the agency.

"Our job is to make Secretary Chu's Department of Energy work better," Issa said. "That's our goal, and it will always be our goal.

"Our job is to look for waste, fraud and abuse in government. And abuse of discretion certainly occurred at the Department of Energy" when it came to the loan program, the chairman charged.

He also said DOE's inspector general has found plenty of waste in the department's $5 billion weatherization program.

"This is all part of our basic mandate to oversee any administration and to [say], 'You've got to do better in these areas,'" Issa said.

Democrats take aim at Issa

But committee Democrats say Issa's wide-ranging investigation into DOE is more partisan witch hunt than oversight effort.

Even before Chu took the witness chair yesterday, ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) released a letter to Issa in which he requested that the chairman stop making "unsubstantiated allegations" against DOE employees.

Among the examples cited by Cummings: Issa said last spring that DOE employees had engaged in criminal conduct by directing General Motors to withhold information from the committee about the agreement between the Obama administration and automakers on fuel economy standards.

"Further investigation revealed that your claim was inaccurate and that Department employees in fact had communicated with GM about how to expedite the department's [Freedom of Information Act] process," Cummings said in the letter.

After yesterday's hearing, Cummings was not optimistic that his message or Chu's testimony had made a difference to Issa.

"I hope [Chu] put it to rest, and I believe that he presented himself admirably; he answered the questions in such a way that they should be put it to rest," Cummings said. "But based upon the history, I don't think they'll let it be put to rest."

Noting the accusations made against Chu yesterday and the two new reports Republicans released detailing concerns with the loan program and the weatherization program, Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly said that "one sometimes feels that one is in a Stalinist courtroom" at an Issa-led hearing.

Connolly said that Republican attempts to paint Chu as "some Machiavellian politician that's looking for ways to reward bundlers" have fallen flat.

"I think it was yet another feckless and unfocused hearing, designed to embarrass in the hope that something sticks," Connolly said. "And I think it has diminished the committee's stature, it has compromised the committee's effectiveness, and I think it is unworthy of a committee of Congress."

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