GOP Hypocrisy on Energy Subsidies?

When the Solyndra scandal broke in September, I wrote that “Republicans should be careful when casting stones given their past and present support for energy subsidies.” The left has been ripping congressional Republicans for making political hay of the Solyndra affair after having lobbied the Department of Energy to bestow their constituents with similar taxpayer handouts.

ThinkProgress released a report that documents letters sent by 62 Republican members of Congress to Energy officials groveling for subsidies. Are these Republicans hypocrites? I’d say that it depends. I think the members who justified their request on the basis of “job creation” while criticizing the Obama administration for justifying its stimulus packages on the same grounds belong in the “yes” column. Also belonging in the “yes” column are those subsidy-seeking members who have chastised the administration for engaging in “crony capitalism” and “picking winners and losers.” On the other hand, I don’t think the sole act of criticizing the Solyndra deal while begging Energy for money necessarily makes one a hypocrite.

According to ThinkProgress, “Republicans are on a war path to defund all clean energy programs – despite the fact that these Republicans previously were proponents of the program when it helped clean energy companies in their districts.” Even if it were true that Republicans now want to “defund all clean energy programs” (I wish), I wouldn’t have a problem with policymakers suddenly finding religion on the issue. As far as I can tell, all of the letters that ThinkProgress lists were sent pre-Solyndra, which means that the “sinners” now have a chance to repent.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) recently did this when he called for the abolition of the Economic Development Administration while acknowledging that he wrongly supported the program in the past. Prominent Republicans cited in the report (e.g., Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), and Republican Study Committee chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH)) now have an opportunity to admit that they were wrong and atone for their mistake by working to eliminate the programs they sought to benefit from.

My expectations for this happening are admittedly very low. Instead, I expect most – if not all – of the Republicans in question to respond with a combination of silence and excuse-making. The chief excuse will be that the money was already appropriated so they might as well try to secure a piece of the pie for their taxpaying constituents. That excuse might fly with some folks on the right, but I think it’s absolute hogwash: you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.

See this Cato essay for more on why energy subsidies should be abolished.