Former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), the most prominent advocate for a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, placed several important conditions on his support for a carbon tax during a debate in Washington, DC. Among Inglis’ preconditions, (1) a carbon tax must be revenue-neutral, with all collected revenues offset by reductions in payroll taxes and capital gains taxes (and not offset by liberals’ preferred “targeted” tax cuts), (2) government must scrap all existing and planned regulations and restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions, (3) government must eliminate subsidies for low-carbon and carbon-free energy sources, and (4) government must impose similar tax penalties on other energy sources, such as appropriate tax penalties on wind turbines for bird kills and land conservation shortcomings, and solar thermal power for water depletion.
The preconditions Inglis voiced in the June 13 debate marked the first time he placed such conditions on his support for a carbon tax. Inglis’ debate opponents, Heritage Foundation Research Fellow David Kreutzer and Heartland Institute Senior Fellow James Taylor, pointed out that at no time in the foreseeable future is Congress likely to pass a carbon tax with any such preconditions.
A Gore-Like Storyline
South Carolina voters delivered a powerful message in the 2010 elections when Inglis lost his Republican primary contest by a vote of 71 percent to 29 percent. Inglis blamed his election defeat on too much conservative purity among South Carolina Republican voters. Since his defeat, Inglis has focused his efforts on advocating for a carbon tax. He identifies himself as a conservative in such advocacy, although South Carolina voters registered their strong disagreement about the claim.
Says Conditions Would Be Circumvented
With Inglis and his debate partner, R Street Institute Senior Fellow Andrew Moylan, voicing their agreement that all of the above preconditions must be met before Congress should even think about imposing a carbon tax, the two have staked out ground opposing the terms of carbon tax proposals currently under consideration by Senate Democrats.
In response in the debate, Taylor emphasized the Obama administration and congressional Democrats would never agree to, or abide by, the preconditions acknowledged by Inglis and Moylan. Accordingly, Taylor argued, Inglis and Moylan are merely providing momentum and political cover for carbon tax proposals that will fail to incorporate the preconditions.
“There is no way the Obama administration and Senate Democrats would agree to these conditions,” Taylor said.
Even if the Obama administration and congressional Democrats initially agreed to Inglis’ preconditions, they would quickly look for ways to circumvent them, such as by raising taxes not affected by the carbon tax swap, Taylor noted. The net result, Taylor said, would be a carbon tax not offset by corresponding tax cuts.
Taylor listed a series of instances in which Washington, DC politicians did not abide by promises to oppose higher taxes and more government interference, such as George H. W. Bush’s “read my lips” promise not to raise taxes, the 1986 immigration bill promise to enforce the southern border, and the Obamacare promise not to force taxpayers to pay for abortions.
Inglis countered we can and should put our trust in politicians to keep their promises. If we fail to fully trust our elected officials, Inglis said, “We might as bring back the monarchy.”
Kreutzer responded that insisting on airtight safeguards instead of taking political promises at face value is far from anti-democratic. The multiple checks and balances included in the U.S. Constitution embody the principle democracy must have a stronger and more secure foundation than politicians’ promises, he noted.
“I feel like I am arguing against pixie dust,” Taylor added, while Inglis repeatedly insisted his preconditions are politically feasible and would be honored by Congress and the Obama administration.
Even in a hypothetical situation where a carbon tax bill with all of Inglis’ preconditions started gaining political momentum, every K Street lobbying firm in Washington DC would sink its teeth into the bill and turn it into a disastrous special interest handout bill, Kreutzer said.
“I live in the real world,” he added, emphasizing his opinion the eventual carbon tax legislation would never meet Inglis’ preconditions.
Bad Policy Regardless of Conditions
Taylor and Kreutzer presented several reasons a carbon tax would be bad policy even if Congress meets all of Inglis’ preconditions. Most importantly, said Taylor, the primary goal of a carbon tax bill is to induce energy suppliers to shift away from inexpensive conventional energy sources to more expensive low-or-no carbon sources. But since the Inglis-Moylan plan would cut taxes only by the amount of new taxes collected under the carbon tax, the high costs of consumers paying higher prices for low-carbon energy would not be offset by lower taxes because these higher costs would not come in the form of higher taxes.
As a result, Taylor said, consumer costs would rise dramatically, the Inglis-Moylan tax cuts would be insufficient to offset the escalating energy costs, and consumers’ living standards and the economy as a whole would suffer.
Taylor concluded by saying debating a carbon tax-and-swap with all the preconditions proposed by Inglis and Moylan is like debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. In any case, the proposal appears unlikely to progress in the foreseeable future given congressional political realities and President Obama’s recent call for stringent EPA restrictions on carbon dioxide.
Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.