Obama on Solyndra: I won't "surrender" to China on green tech

President Barack Obama gestures during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Barack Obama
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

As Republicans continue to decry the government loan program that sank $535 million into the failed solar company Solyndra, President Obama today defended the investments, saying he's not willing to "surrender" to China and other nations on new technologies.

"I'm not going to surrender to other countries' technological leads that could end up determining whether or not we're building a strong middle class in this country," President Obama said in a White House press conference.

"I'd heard there was a Republican member of Congress who's engaging in oversight on this. And despite the fact that all of them in the past have been supportive of this loan guarantee program, he concluded, 'You know what? We can't compete against China when it comes to solar energy,'" Mr. Obama said, alluding to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa. "Well, you know what? I don't buy that."

Since Solynda's August bankruptcy, questions have emerged about whether the White House adequately vetted the $535 million loan, and Republicans -- Issa in particular -- have questioned if the president's energy agenda is "killing jobs." The White House has said the $38 billion distributed through its loan guarantee program would save or create 65,000 jobs, but reports show it's fallen far short of that.

Mr. Obama today acknowledged that by its very nature, a loan guarantee program is going to entail "some risk," and some companies like Solyndra are going to fail.

"But the overall portfolio has been successful," he said. "It has allowed us to help companies, for example, start advanced battery manufacturing here in the United States. It's helped to create jobs."

Still, he said, countries like China have made enormous investments in green technologies that have enabled their markets to overshadow the U.S. market. The loan program, he said was designed to "close that gap."

The president said that the decision to invest in Solyndra "was made was on the merits" and wasn't inappropriate.

"We are not going to be duplicating the kind of system that they have in China, where they are basically state-run banks giving money to state-run companies and ignoring losses and ignoring, you know, bad management," he said. "But there is a role to play for us to make sure that these companies can at least have a fighting shot. And it does mean that there are going to be some that aren't successful, and it's going to be an uphill climb for some."

Mr. Obama also pointed out that the loan guarantee program predates his administration and has in the past had bipartisan support.