In recent years — where important legislation always seems to be prepared at the eleventh hour, after closed door meetings with only selected congressional leaders — it has been easy to forget that one of Congress’ more important powers is the power to investigate, obtain documents, and take testimony. Much of the drama in the Watergate story, for example, came during the long, drawn-out congressional hearings into that scandal, as witness after witness drew the ring of scandal closer and closer around President Nixon.
The story of Solyndra — the solar power company that recently went into bankruptcy after receiving more than $500 million in government loan guarantees and then became the subject of an FBI investigation — may reignite interest in congressional hearings. ABC News is reporting that the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will hold hearings on the Solyndra story tomorrow, has obtained emails that indicate that the White House was carefully monitoring the Energy Department’s consideration of loan guarantees to Solyndra, at the same time that government analysts were expressing serious concerns about the risks involved.
The Solyndra story is no Watergate, of course, but congressional oversight and investigation powers aren’t reserved only for scandals capable of bringing down a President. Congress should determine whether federal officials disregarded clear risks and awarded more than half a billion dollars to a private company just to advance a political agenda — or, even worse, to help a political contributor who invested in a struggling business — and, if so, Congress should take steps to ensure that those officials are appropriately punished and such recklessness does not happen again in the future. Such actions would be a good sign that Congress may actually get back to doing its job and exercising its powers, rather than simply, and endlessly, fundraising and grandstanding.