Saturday, September 17, 2011

An Unlikely Solution

It's an example of the dangers of government subcontracting programs to the private sector. Ezra Klein reports

To pay for Hurricane Irene relief, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wanted budget cuts. Democrats didn't. But Cantor (R-Va.) might have found a cut that could be difficult for them to say no to. The House’s stopgap bill to fund the government after Sept. 30 contains a $1.5 billion offset for disaster relief, targeting a fuel-efficiency loan program that one House Republican has compared to government’s support for the ill-fated Solyndra.

The House’s stopgap budget proposes a $1.5 billion cut to the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program to help pay for $3.5 billion in additional disaster relief funds. The ATVM program was originally created by President Bush and Congress to lend auto companies money to help improve their fuel economy, setting a target of $25 billion in loans and giving the program $7.5 billion in credit subsidies — the estimated long-term net cost to the government. So far, the program has spent a little less than half its credit subsidy fund, using $3.5 billion to guarantee loans for both auto giants and start-ups. Ford received a $5.9 billion loan to help develop a fuel-efficient, “EcoBoost” engine; Nissan got a $1.45 billion loan to develop the LEAF electric car and electric battery packs; Fisker received $529 million to develop two plug-in hybrids, and Tesla was given a $465 million loan to open up a new electric-vehicle factory.

The House GOP had developed an amendment to cut funding for the fuel-efficiency loan program in June. But the proposal has gained new force in light of the scandal surrounding Solyndra, the bankrupt solar company that received a similar federal loan guarantee through the stimulus. Florida GOP Rep. Cliff Stearns, chair of oversight for the House Energy and Commerce who held Wednesday’s hearing on Solyndra, criticized the ATVM loans for posing similar risks. “I think we have other Solyndras out there,” he told the New York Times this week. “The government should not be picking winners and losers — that’s what they’re doing with Nissan, Tesla and Fisker...They’re at risk in an global open competitive market” (except if it's the Master of Cronyism, Governor Rick Perry, at work).

David Atkins observes "evidently, big banks are allowed to implode the economy while getting free money from the government, but the government is not allowed to invest in green technology firms that might fail from time to time at a tiny fraction of the cost." Still, maybe we should take seriously the inference from Stearns and his fellow Grand Old Partiers that the federal government should not pick winners and losers. Let's eliminate to the renewable fuels industry its annual subsidy of $6 billion. Then we could eliminate the annual subsidies of $8 billion to the coal industry, $9 billion to the nuclear industry, and $41 billion to oil and gas interests. (Ethanol gets $6 billion.) Given that, we are told, the nation will collapse and the world will end if the deficit isn't reduced, the GOP certainly would applaud such a proposal.

But of course it would not because of the connections these powerful interests have made with high-ranking officials. One example is

U.S. coal companies have pumped $1.5 million into House Speaker John Boehner’s political operation this year, a sign of the industry’s beefed-up efforts to fight new and proposed regulations from the Obama administration.

The coal industry now ranks as one of the top sources of cash for the Ohio Republican, rivaling such perennial GOP donors as Wall Street and the real-estate industry. A large part of the coal industry’s donations came in a single week at the end of June.

This year's bribes donations to the Speaker include $70,00 from William Koch, who owns the coal-mining company Oxbow Corporation, and his wife. William is brother to Charles and David, the right-wing libertarian owners of the second largest private company in the United States and of the Republican Party. A spokesman for Oxbow admits "We are a big supporter of John Boehner. We think he is good for business." Yeah, no kidding.

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