THE MORNING LINE -- November 17, 2011 at 8:10 AM ET
Chu Set to Face Tough Questions at Solyndra Hearing
Lawmakers will ask Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the $535 million federal loan received by solar company Solyndra before it went bankrupt and laid off its workers. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu appears set to push back forcefully on GOP criticism that the Obama administration's $535 million loan guarantee to the now-defunct solar panel manufacturer Solyndra was financially unwise and politically motivated.
According to prepared remarks, Chu will tell members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that politics had nothing to do with the decision to approve the funding for Solyndra, which filed for bankruptcy last September.
"As the Secretary of Energy, the final decisions on Solyndra were mine, and I made them with the best interest of the taxpayer in mind. I want to be clear: over the course of Solyndra's loan guarantee, I did not make any decision based on political considerations," Chu is expected to tell lawmakers at the outset of the hearing, which begins at 10 a.m. Thursday.
"My decision to guarantee a loan to Solyndra was based on the analysis of experienced professionals and on the strength of the information they had available to them at the time," Chu plans to say.
For their part, Republican lawmakers will likely press Chu on emails released by the committee that reveal the Obama administration had asked Solyndra to delay layoffs until after the November 2010 midterm elections. Other emails provided by the committee detail how Solyndra applied pressure to the Department of Energy to finance a rescue plan for the company.
Chu plans to tell the committee that Solyndra's liquidity crisis left the Department of Energy with no good options.
"The Department faced a difficult decision: force the company into immediate bankruptcy or restructure the loan guarantee to allow the company to accept emergency financing that would be paid back first if the company was still unable to recover," Chu will argue.
"Immediate bankruptcy meant a 100 percent certainty of default, with an unfinished plant as collateral. Restructuring improved the chance of recovering taxpayer money by giving the company a fighting chance at success, with a completed plant as collateral."
As part of his defense, Chu is also expected to point to nearly 500 letters written by lawmakers to the Energy Department requesting it accelerate similar projects in their home states. It's a good bet, however, that GOP committee members will be less interested in those documents Thursday and more inclined discuss the writings of Energy Department officials instead.
WHEELS COMING OFF
It's another day closer to the Nov. 23 deadline for the Congressional supercommittee to come up with a deficit reduction plan, and the panel appears nowhere close to an agreement. In fact, according to the Associated Press, committee members are now trading insults with each other in public.
From the AP:
Whatever remaining hope there was appeared to have washed away Wednesday after both Democrats and Republicans on the 12-member panel traded rhetorical salvos about whether the other side was negotiating in good faith.
"We need to find out whether our Republican colleagues want to continue to negotiate or whether they've drawn a hard line in the sand," supercommittee Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said. "The question is whether they've kind of said, 'Take it or leave it.'"
"What I've yet to see is a plan that fundamentally solves the problem," Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the panel's top Republican, told reporters.
Democrats on Wednesday leaked a proposal that seemed to move more toward previous Republican plans. The proposal would cut about $900 billion in spending and increase taxes by $400, according to the Washington Post. One key issue is that Democrats want the Bush/Obama tax cuts to expire at the end of 2012, and Republicans are counting that plan as a tax increase.
Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane explain why the latest proposal still wasn't moving the ball forward:
The proposal represents an apparent shift from earlier Democratic debt-reduction proposals, which demanded as much as $1.3 trillion in new taxes through 2021. It also appeared to mark a big step toward the latest Republican position, which called for about $300 billion in new taxes.
But Republicans said the offer was a ruse that included at least $800 billion in new taxes from the expiration of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts in January.
"It would lock in the largest tax hike in history -- at least $800 billion -- and then add an additional $400 billion in job-killing tax hikes without pro-growth tax reform," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). In that regard, Steel said, the offer was "a step backward" that Republicans summarily rejected.
PERRY'S NEW AD
The recent flurry of Republican presidential debates has led to a sharpening of differences amongst the party's contenders. Still, the candidate most likely to successfully navigate his or her way to the GOP nomination is the one who will be able to draw a clear contrast with President Obama.
And that's what Texas Gov. Rick Perry has set out to do with his most recent television ad.
The 30-second spot, released Wednesday and airing on national cable and in Iowa, targets President Obama's recent comments that the United States has been "a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades" in pursuing foreign investors.
The ad doesn't provide that context, however, which allows Perry to jump in and say, "Can you believe that? That's what our President thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy?"
Politico's Jonathan Allen and Alex Isenstadt report that Mitt Romney has also cited the line on the stump and note that it's likely not the last we'll hear, or see, of the clip.
While it took the word "lazy" a few days to amble into the political sphere -- Obama was speaking at last weekend's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Hawaii -- it is now spreading across the campaign landscape on winged feet. Republicans say it's another example in a troubling trend of the president trash-talking his own country, and they warn that the video is now sitting in the vault, ready to be rolled out for campaign ads at all levels next fall. Moreover, some Democratic strategists privately concede that it was a bad moment for the president, even if it's harder to pin the remark on other Democrats.
For now, Perry's use of the "lazy" remark in his ad has as much to do with landing a solid hit on the president as it does reviving his struggling campaign, following a series of unsteady debate performances and corresponding drop in the polls.
THE HEALTHIEST LUNCH
Kids who love eating pizza and the food companies that love selling it to schools can celebrate the news that Congress has blocked a rule change sought by the Obama administration that would have prevented the government from counting two teaspoons of tomato paste as a vegetable -- which would make pizza count as a vegetable in school lunches.
The bill would also eliminate other changes that the Department of Agriculture had proposed, like increasing whole grains in school meals and limiting the use of starchy vegetables to two servings a week, which would have reduced the amount of fries served daily at many schools.
The policy is part of a $182 billion bill that would fund several federal departments and is expected to be sent to President Obama this week, according to the AP.
The Department of Agriculture sought the changes as part of an effort to make school lunches healthier.
USDA spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said Tuesday that the department will continue its efforts to make lunches healthier.
"While it's unfortunate that some members of Congress continue to put special interests ahead of the health of America's children, USDA remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals," she said in a statement. ... Food companies who have fought the USDA standards say they were too strict and neglected the nutrients that potatoes, other starchy vegetables and tomato paste do offer.
"This agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta," said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute.
ON THE TRAIL
All events listed in Eastern Time.
President Obama is in Australia and Indonesia.
Vice President Joe Biden is in Washington, where he attends meetings at the White House. At 8 p.m., he delivers remarks at the Democracy Alliance dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Rick Santorum has a full day in Iowa. He visits the Hamburg Inn in Iowa City at 8:30 a.m., addresses the Iowa State Association of Counties Fall School in Coralville at 9:15 a.m., holds a media availability in Coralville at 10:15 a.m., addresses the Iowa Associate of Business and Industry Board Meeting in Des Moines at 12:30 p.m. and holds a media availability prior to attending a house party in Davenport at 7:15 p.m.
Michele Bachmann holds a town hall at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, at 11 a.m. She also tours Pioneer Hi-Bred and participates in an employee town hall in Johnston at 3 p.m.
Herman Cain holds a rally with supporters in Nashua, N.H., at 12 p.m.
Jon Huntsman tours the Sturm, Ruger & Co. Gun Factory in Newport, N.H., at 1 p.m.
Newt Gingrich participates in a Tea Party town hall in Jacksonville at 2 p.m.
Rick Perry holds a media availability in Jackson, Miss., at 3:45 p.m.
All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.