President Obama on Sunday mocked Republicans who opposed the House energy bill and actually cheered Friday after it passed, predicting that it will come back to haunt Democrats.
“I hear that the Republicans were shouting ‘BTU’ on the floor … which I think is fascinating,” Mr. Obama said, speaking to a small group of newspaper reporters in the Oval Office about the bill.
BTU refers to a tax on units of energy passed in 1993 by the House in President Clinton’s first year in office, which went nowhere in the Senate but hurt a number of House Democrats in the 1994 mid-terms, when the GOP captured the majority in the House.
Obama dismissed House Republicans who feel that history may be repeating itself.
“Those guys are 16 years behind the times. I mean, here they are having an argument about the 1990s and we’re in 2009,” Obama said during his interview. “They are fighting not even the last war, they’re fighting three wars ago.”
Obama then went on to channel President Ronald Reagan by talking about America’s future, coopting the Republican president’s message for himself and the Democratic party. Here’s a transcript of his expansive remarks on how he thinks America should think of the future, courtesy of the New York Times.
President Obama: It was interesting, I hear that the Republicans were shouting “BTU” on the floor.
Q. They were.
President Obama: Which I think is fascinating, because that tells me those guys are 16 years behind the times. I mean, here they are having an argument about the 1990s and we’re in 2009 — and they’re making the same argument on health care. They’re doing the same thing. They are fighting not even the last war, they’re fighting three wars ago.
The American people have moved forward. They are way ahead. And for all the fear-mongering I think that, as I said, there’s a recognition that the status quo is unsustainable. We have now an additional 15 to 20 years under our belts where we’ve seen energy prices continue with their volatility, the environmental consequences moved more rapidly than anybody had anticipated, our economy has not been strengthened — we’ve actually been — we’ve actually fallen behind other countries on this front. The same is true on health care, what we’ve seen is huge increases in health care costs, less satisfaction, decreases in quality.
And so we are not going to succeed by looking backwards. We’re going to succeed by moving forward. That’s what has always been true about America. Nobody ever looks back on American history and says — whether it was the transition from the agricultural era to the industrial era, whether it was the shift from the industrial era to the information era — nobody ever looks back on American history and says, boy, if folks had just kept things exactly the way they were, America would be wildly successful. Those arguments are always made. At every juncture in our history there has always been somebody who says: Be afraid of the future, this is a disaster, we can’t change. At every juncture.
But that’s not how we operate. What we do is we say, yes, the future is going to be tough, but we see opportunity there, along with challenge, and we’re going to meet it.
And it was interesting, just — because you’re talking about sort of I think a Republican congressional mind set that is looking backwards, because Republican governors and mayors have been largely supportive of all the steps we’ve taken on clean energy.
I had a lunch with a handful of corporate CEOs and they were talking about the ‘90s — actually the ‘80s and the ‘90s, and they said back in the ‘80s everybody was sure that Japan was going to take over — remember, they bought Rockefeller Center and we had these huge trade deficits, and everybody was certain that the American era was over. And what the best companies did was not shy away from this new challenge, but they embraced it and they said, how are we going to become more efficient, how are we going to cut our costs, how are we going to get more bang for the buck? In other words, how are we going to compete?
And what these CEOs all told me is that if we as a nation can make the same transition, take the same approach on the energy sector, on health care, on education — and frankly, on government, because government is not as efficient as it needs to be — but if we had that same mind set, then as a nation we’re going to be able to compete effectively.
So are there going to be nay-sayers? Absolutely. Are there going to be short-term instances where you can get political gain by scaring the bejesus out of people and telling them that their electricity rates are going to go up a thousand percent and this is going to be a tax of $3,000 — even though the studies that they cite the authors of say that these guys are just lying about these costs? Yes. Those political talking points will, in some cases, have some short-term impact.
But long term, I look at America’s history and that tells me that we don’t shy away from the future.
Q. Were those 44 Democrats not coming along with the future?
President Obama: No, I think those 44 Democrats are sensitive to the immediate political climate of uncertainty around this issue. They’ve got to run every two years, and I completely understand that.
— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times