The Republicans have lost the knack for being a minority party in opposition. Nowadays, they waste tremendous time and effort playing he-said-she-said with Nancy Pelosi or Jon Edwards, while blithely voting for more pork and trillions in new spending. Obama, after all, wouldn't have his favorite and best tool (TARP) for building a Mussolini-style corporate state without Republican votes.
While it strikes me that a capable opposition would certainly know how to turn a knife in a political scandal, it also should be ready to introduce principled alternatives to key legislation. The best such proposals are ones that attempt to achieve the stated goals of the majority party better and faster than the majority's own legislative efforts.
Which brings us to Jeff Flake, who is becoming a master of this. When Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama spouted platitudes about openness in government (without really taking any steps to achieve it) Flake came along and introduced bill after bill challenging the Democrats put their money where their mouth is on earmarks and transparency. I have always been a big fan of Congressman Jeff Flake, who represents a district not far away from my home. Though we don't agree on every issue, there are few, if any, politicians whose judgment I trust more.
Flake's most recent initiative is one close to my heart. As readers know, I have good scientific reasons for believing the threat of CO2 emissions has been grossly overstated. However, if we are going to commit to reducing CO2, we might as well do it intelligently, and Flake's proposal is very close to one I have been pushing for some time:
Conservative House members Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Inglis (R-SC), along with Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), have introduced an alternative to the cap-and-trade proposal developed by House Democrats: HR 2380, the "Raise Wages, Cut Carbon" Act of 2009. Their proposal is for a carbon tax that will gradually increase over time, offset by a reduction in payroll taxes.
Of course I think this is brilliant, because it is my idea as well. But it is also a brilliant opposition strategy. Flake's approach is far better than the cap-and-trade mess the Democrats have gotten themselves in -- not just because it would work better, but because it actually hits key supposedly liberal objectives better than does the Democrat's bill. Specifically:
- Fairness. Sure, everyone is correct that a carbon tax can be politicized, but I do not think it can be gamed nearly as much as cap-and-trade. For evidence, I turn to California. California has both a cap-and-trade legislation, rule-making for which has been thrown to the California Air Resources Board (CARB); and it has carbon-tax-like excise taxes, which we generally call sales taxes. Sure, there are some special case sales tax categories aimed a politically connected groups, but in general the sales tax system in California is simple and mostly fair. More importantly, it is a layup to administer. Contrast that to CARB, which has been slogging away in cap-and-trade related rule-making for years, and has everybody both pissed off and panicked. Should cow flatulence be counted? Should National Forests be able to sell offsets? How do you create any kind of fair offset accounting given the shenanigans in Europe? Should we allow Californians to have black cars? (seriously) This is a perfect A-B test, as the legislators are the same in both cases -- sales taxes are simple and fair, cap-and-trade is a mess.
- Openness and transparency. It is clear that Obama's stated commitment to openness and transparency was all so much BS. But why not nail him to that cross anyway? Few if any of the general public understand cap-and-trade. It is a tax, but it is inherently hidden from view, and passed through to consumers buried in rates in a way that offers politicians maximum deniability. Everyone understands a sales tax, or the gas tax. The system and its costs will be right out front (which is exactly what Democrats secretly DON'T want, which is what makes this a clever opposition tactic).
- Progressiveness. For all their talks about the common man and being progressives, the advocates of cap-and-trade are pushing what is possibly the most regressive tax increase of all time. Again, there is a kind of political money laundering that hides the tax, but it is a tax none-the-less, and will hit the poor the hardest when electricity and fuel prices inevitably increase. Flake's proposal to take the proceeds of the tax and use them to reduce the payroll tax is a great one -- offset one regressive tax with another, while at the same time putting in place incentives for job creation.
Postscript: My 2007 energy plan was as follows (assuming the need to do something about CO2)
- large federal carbon tax, offset by reduction in income and/or payroll taxes
- streamlined program for licensing new nuclear reactors
- get out of the way