Paul Ryan's U-Turn on Green Car Loans

The candidate urged riskier lending in a program he now attacks
Photo illustration by 731; Ryan: Jensen Sutta/Corbis; Van: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg; Cash: Bernard Jaubert/Getty Images; Road: John Churchman/Getty Images

Paul Ryan is no fan of subsidies for green energy—lately, anyway. His 2013 budget refers to loans for the development of electric cars as “corporate welfare.” In a Sept. 4 interview with CBS News, he attacked the Obama administration for extending such credit: “If you take a look at the president’s policies—he said he calls them investments—it’s borrowing money and spending money through Washington, picking winners and losers, spending money on favorites, you know, people like Solyndra or Fisker.”

Fisker Automotive, which qualified in April 2010 for a $529 million federal loan to build electric cars, has become a Republican punching bag since Washington froze all but $193 million of that credit last year after the company missed production targets for its first model, the $103,000 Karma. Ryan has been citing the loan as an example of recklessness with taxpayer money.

Yet in October 2008, the same month that General Motors announced it would close its assembly plant in Ryan’s hometown, the Wisconsin representative pressed the U.S. Department of Energy to write rules that would have allowed Fisker to draw all $529 million of its credit line—before producing any cars. Along with three Democratic colleagues in the U.S. House and Senate, Ryan urged regulators in a letter to give companies receiving auto loans all their funding in a lump sum.

“While criticizing the president for a Bush-era clean energy loan program that’s part of a portfolio expected to support more than 60,000 jobs, Ryan hypocritically demanded upfront payments to companies under the same program,” Danny Kanner, a spokesman for the president’s reelection campaign, says in an e-mail.

Brendan Buck, a Ryan spokesman, says the vice presidential candidate’s lobbying of the Energy Department in 2008 doesn’t undermine his record as a fiscal watchdog. “Nothing in the letter suggests [a] reduced or revised threshold for qualifying funds,” Buck says in an e-mail. “The flexibility related solely to funding after a company had been approved as a viable recipient.”

Regulators never took Ryan’s advice—hence their ability to halt payments to Fisker after it came up short. According to an independent review of Energy Department loan programs completed this year by Herbert Allison, a former senior official in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, that ability to cut off funding is the taxpayers’ safety net.


    The bottom line: Paul Ryan once pushed regulators to award loans upfront and in full under an electric car loan program he now criticizes.

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