It’s A Price, Not A Tax

April 7th, 2009 at 8:34 pm | 13 Comments |

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Fighting for lower taxes has always been a bread and butter issue for Republicans — and a good thing given the Democrats’ propensity toward raising them and “spreading the wealth.” However, Republican tax rhetoric veered in a perilous new direction recently when party leaders began attacking efforts to address climate change as an “energy tax” on American families and businesses.

I am sure some messaging wonk thought characterizing climate legislation as a tax increase would score political points in a bad economy, but it is exactly this kind of shortsighted thinking that has eroded public faith in Republicans’ ability to recognize and solve the nation’s problems.

By framing the costs associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering America’s dangerous dependence on oil as a tax, Republicans are boxing themselves firmly into the corner of climate change skeptics and forgoing any role in — or credit for — solving the problem.

It also pulls the rug out from under Republicans who are offering their own proposals to address climate change.

Any cap-and-trade bill, or competing alternatives such as cap-and-dividend or carbon tax measures, would take the fundamental step of putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, thus sending a signal that CO2 emissions carry a cost and free disposal in the atmosphere is no longer appropriate.

Environmental legislation works to reduce harmful emissions by putting a price on those emissions, either directly or more commonly, by limiting their disposal into the environment. The Clean Air Act put a price on sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other harmful air pollutants. The Clean Water Act put a price on sewage, hazardous chemical wastes, and other types of water pollution.

Those laws, despite having their own Chicken Little prognosticators of economic ruin, passed with bipartisan support and collaboration. As a result, our air and water is cleaner, the sky didn’t fall, and both parties can be proud of their role in making our nation a better place to live.

Today, our Republican leaders are content to busy themselves with political gamesmanship that threatens to undermine any effort to address climate change. To conjure up their tax claim Minority Leader Boehner and others have been publicly distorting a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study of cap-and-trade proposals, over the written objections of the study’s author, to exaggerate the costs cited in the study while omitting the benefits.

Instead of using loaded language and phony data to poison the climate debate, both the party and the nation would be far better served if GOP leaders would rally behind those in the party who have their own plans for addressing climate change — and let them work constructively to help craft balanced legislation that does not, as Democrats are prone to do on their own, needlessly expand the federal bureaucracy.

That approach would actually make sense to the vast majority of Americans who believe that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The current one does nothing to earn the confidence of voters, and runs a real risk of landing our party on the wrong side of history.

Recent Posts by Jim DiPeso



13 Comments so far ↓

  • sinz54

    Oh, brother. We don’t need Orwellian Newspeak. Of course a carbon tax is a tax–and I support this type of tax. In fact, it’s precisely BECAUSE the amount of taxation will be visible to the American people rather than hidden (as with cap-and-trade) that I favor it–it will show the American people just how costly it will be to reduce greenhouse gases.The basic problem is this: We conservatives have been fighting against high taxes for so long, that we have never bothered to explain to the American people just what taxes we do consider to be necessary or desirable. As if our ultimate goal is to reduce taxes to zero, and shrink the Federal Government to “drown in the bathtub,” as Grover Norquist once put it. That is a libertarian fantasy, and it’s high time we abandoned that fantasy.Try reviewing Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose?” His solution for the externalities of pollution was to impose an effluent tax on industry for each type of pollutant. He didn’t shrink away from the word “tax,” or from the concept of raising taxes. Nor did he engage in Newspeak by trying to call an effluent tax a “price.”Perhaps David Frum should start a discussion on “What taxes do we conservatives actually favor?”, instead of the usual discussion on what taxes we oppose.

  • dendup

    I think the conceptual problem for conservatives on taxes is to contrue taxes as a penalty rather than the price for common goals. Mutual defense is seen as necessary, but I think, not something that in fact adds value. Mutual defense merely restores man’s natural state of liberty. It’s like having to buy back something someone stole from you.The result is to never see any value added by the activity taxes fund.Things held in common, such as clean air and water, have previously only been exaustable locally. Enterprising individuals could just move on to where fresh resources were available. To price these things, again, becomes having to pay for something that was stolen.The concept of stewardship does not I think refute this. It is an attempt to provide a moral justification for restraint. But this collides with the Anglo-Protestant strain of conservatism that sees moral justification coming exclusively from one’s faith in Jesus as Redeemer.While I am a liberal, I do not mean any of this pejoratively, but only what I observe and infer. Maybe to attempt to do so is domed to failure and hubris. You tell me.

  • Bulldoglover100

    Recently David? You missed the last 8 years of George Bush did you? The 17 TRILLION in Medicare Drug entitlement didn’t register with you?As for allowing the Republican party to handle Green anything? LOL The voters will never allow it. Wait and see. Not sure where your taking the pluse of America at but it’s a poor example it’s showing you. Check facebook…..pretty random sample of people and the general concensus you will find regarding Republicans and Green? Is paper thin but the Obama admin.? Still golden no matter how that may gall us.Again, a better policy will win the day but this harping like a tired old woman will get us no where. Time to put on the big girl panties and deal with reality.

  • barker13

    Jim,I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a “climate change” sceptic. Indeed, we all know that climates CHANGE…(*SNORT*)Skepticism revolves around how accurate computer modeling is and to what extent man’s activities lead to “unnatural” climate changes.Beyond the “how and why” debate there’s also the question of “would global warming do more good or harm” worldwide overall assuming global warming or cooling is within man’s ability to substantively influence climate changes in the first place.BTW… what’s the deal with all the multiple threads on the same topic? Is this coordinated…??? Hey… NM can do what it wants with its blog, but being this heavy handed seems to me counter productive.BILL

  • sinz54

    dendup: Taxes serve both purposes–they can serve common goals, but they can also act as economic disincentives. For example, advocates of raising the cigarette tax say explicitly that they hope that the high price of cigarettes will discourage smoking.Now in the case of a carbon tax, it’s NOT just that a carbon tax will help pay for the use of the atmosphere. It’s ALSO that the resulting higher prices for fossil fuels will help incentivize a shift to alternative forms of energy. Which must happen inevitably anyway, sincewe’re fast approaching the point of “peak oil.”

  • dendup

    sinz: My point is not so much the function of taxes (you’re right about that) as the perception of them. The push and pull of a carbon tax, I maintain, is less important to many conservatives than the idea of having to pay for a common resource ie of having to pay for something they already own.I think this is part of the resistence to the very idea of human enhanced climate change – if that is happening to a dangerous extent, many conservatives fear that only large scale communal action (huge taxes, socialism, world gov’t) will ammerioralate the probelm enough. Since such action is not acceptable, indeed, flies in the face of man’s natural state, it must not be happening, or the resulting catastrophe is better than the catastrophe of the solution.That at least is my perception.

  • sinz54

    dendup: That’s not the only problem. The U.S., with the world’s largest economy (and one that is based on fossil fuels for transportation), produces the largest share of greenhouse gases on Earth. Hence any agreement to reduce greenhouse gases is going to end up putting more of the onus on the U.S. than on any other nations.Since 60% of America’s energy needs are for transportation, and since there is no good alternative to fossil fuels for transportation at this time, what this boils down to is the U.S. sacrificing its economy for the rest of the planet. (Unless there is some breakthrough in transportation technology in the near future.)And that really riles us conservatives, since we tend to be nationalists who don’t like to see the U.S. being made a sacrificial goat for the developing world. Even though I think global warming is an important problem, it even riles me that the U.S. has to deliberately throttle back its economy, just so India and China can continue to expand their economies at full speed.That was what derailed passage of the Kyoto Protocol. The Senate passed a sense-of-the-Senate resolution that no agreement on global warming was acceptable unless India and China were bound by the same restrictions as America. Faced with that, President Clinton decided not even to try to bring Kyoto up for a vote.

  • Jeffersonian

    All that comes to mind is silly, silly, silly. First there has been no legitimate science put forward proving global warming. Yes global warming, not climate change as that is just a SILLY use of phraseology used for the attempt at misdirection. Climate change happens all the time, and is so vague as to be unusable. SILLY also in attempting to label a tax as something other than a tax. If it is a price, then nowhere in the Constitution is Congress empowered to charge for anything, so this would be an unlawful abd unenforcable(except through further illegal actions) act. It also fails to fall under any presently given powers of Congress, and would require the passing of an amendment to bring it about.

  • Jeffersonian

    All that comes to mind is silly, silly, silly. First there has been no legitimate science put forward proving global warming. Yes global warming, not climate change as that is just a SILLY use of phraseology used for the attempt at misdirection. Climate change happens all the time, and is so vague as to be unusable. SILLY also in attempting to label a tax as something other than a tax. If it is a price, then nowhere in the Constitution is Congress empowered to charge for anything, so this would be an unlawful abd unenforcable(except through further illegal actions) act. It also fails to fall under any presently given powers of Congress, and would require the passing of an amendment to bring it about.

  • sjohnson104

    Whether or not you truly believe it to be a tax or not, Jim is right. First, Republican labeling it a tax is going to doom them losing debate. When the debate heats up, the left will rightly use evidence from the 1990s with acid rain (FoxNews just did this), public opinion will eventually see the weakness of Republican arguments, thereby eliminating their credibility on the issue. Democrats framing the issue as a green jobs, energy security/independence issue is already helping them win the debate, too. Second, Republican infighting threatens further negative stigma associated with our party. While some segment doesn’t believe that it even exists, others don’t want to do anything, and another segment that wants to address it but lacks a clear message on how to (maybe another smaller group wants a tax or cap-trade). So, 10-20 years from now, when the segment of the younger population ages–the group that especially cares about the environment–they will not look to the Republican party as a group that has an answer to it. Finally, the House Waman-Markey bill addresses the Right’s issue with India/China, and shipping jobs overseas through rebates and tariffs. This doesn’t help Republicans’ contribution to the issue.Republicans, by taking the tax message, are not going to be able show any future credibility on the issue or take any credit for climate legislation like they could with the acid rain/clean air amendments in 1990.

  • cb55

    Jim DiPeso, you can call it whatever you want, it is a tax. Whether climate change is occurring or not, we need to see cost benefit comparisons between what we can actually do about it comparesd with the consequences of paying the costs. If very little can be done, at great expenses that cause as harmful if not more results than climate change would, this becomes a legitimate argument, even if everyone accepted that climate change was real.This debate is a hard one because there is so much differing information. And the groups that predominantly shove this down our throats all seem to be from the same curcles that conservative minded people do not trust. and it seems to fit nicely with ideology and other previously disproven doomsday scares that conservative are rightfully suspicious of. Accepting the left’s premise as the only way to look at this issue, or any other issue is not a way to beat them.If climate change is real, then, yes, we should look at solutions and alternatives, granted that the costs of doing so do not create somethign worse. But they should be looked at using conservative principles. Not automatically accepting the left’s ideas of fixing it, that conveniently fit into all they have been working for for the last 100 years.

  • Ryan

    “The basic problem is this: We conservatives have been fighting against high taxes for so long, that we have never bothered to explain to the American people just what taxes we do consider to be necessary or desirable. As if our ultimate goal is to reduce taxes to zero, and shrink the Federal Government to “drown in the bathtub,” as Grover Norquist once put it. That is a libertarian fantasy, and it’s high time we abandoned that fantasy.”This is a very good point! Its like republicans have become economic anarchists! Some taxes are necessary people! And taxes right now are at historic lows! With the deficit being such a huge concern, and lower spending not being an immediate option, maybe we should start thinking about the irresponsibility of undertaxing ourselves.Also I don’t mean to be pimping my site but I do have a post about this topic (conservatives and taxation) that’s pretty comprehensive:http://thefactofmyignorance.com/politics/some-historical-perspective-for-tea-partiers/

  • NBohr

    Words Do Matter. There is a crucial difference between a TAX and a Price. That fundamental difference is FORCE.Government, the monopolist of force, imposes taxes on items for two distinct purposes. To recoup the cost of providing acknowledges services like enforcement of contract via law fee, toll on government improved roads, etc.. Or a tax can be levied to destroy or to detur behavior on the part of individuals that the government does not like.Price is set by free market exchanges between buyers and sellers. If neither reaches agreement there is no sale. However no individual can evade a tax. A tax will not be repealed (Pennsylvanian liquor buyers are still paying a tax for the original Johnstown flood to the best of my knowledge). Prices can and do decrease when innovation and efficiences are brought to the production or distribution of a good or service.So to be disingenious to call a tax a price is to be dishonest. If the buying public wanted the environmental benefits of clean air and clean water they would be willing to buy them and providers would enter the market freely. The Water Softner industry is an example — the cost of the softness quality of ones water is manifest in the price of thise service.Government is not that honest. The collection of taxes (fees) on nuclear waste (and governmental assertion of a monopoly on reprocessing of said waste) is a case in point. These taxes were collected and dishonestly not used as advertised.Republicans must be honest in their use of terms and they must remember that we first and foremost believe in the rights and duties of an individual for it is fron the individuals that we have all of our rights..