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TAUBE: An Obama economic idea that Republicans shouldn’t refuse
Privatizing the TVA makes free-market sense
Republicans have been completely right in criticizing President Obama for his poor handling of the economy. That being said, it’s completely wrong for the GOP to criticize him when he does something right.
In its 2013-14 budget, the White House proposed major reforms to the Tennessee Valley Authority. Established in 1933 during the Great Depression by President Roosevelt, the TVA is one of the largest public utilities for electricity. It also carries a hefty $25 billion debt, which means it’s a massive financial drain on American taxpayers.
In what should be considered a surprising move, Mr. Obama opened the door to privatizing the TVA. As mentioned in his budget, “reducing or eliminating the federal government’s role in programs such as TVA, which have achieved their original objectives and no longer require federal participation, can help put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path.”
When I first heard about Mr. Obama’s proposal, I thought it was a great idea. At long last, he discovered the glory of the free-market system. Even if he hasn’t, at least this liberal president correctly gave a nod to the private sector.
How do you think Republicans reacted to Mr. Obama’s suggestion? Some of the nation’s free-market champions acted more like public-sector chumps.
According to media reports, Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee called it a “very bad idea,” while Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee declared it “bizarre” and “one more bad idea in a budget full of bad ideas.” Even Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama went only as far to say that he would “carefully study any proposals to restructure TVA.”
With all due respect, these prominent Republicans are acting as if they have completely lost their minds. Republican politicians, staff and supporters shouldn’t be rejecting any proposal or attempt to sell off a public utility to the private sector — even if this proposal is coming from a highly unlikely source, the Obama White House.
In the past, many Republicans have criticized the TVA. President Eisenhower called it a prime example of “creeping socialism.” President Reagan felt it was a cog in the wheel of “big government.” Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater famously told The Saturday Evening Post, “You know, I think we ought to sell TVA.”
If that’s the case, why on earth are some Republicans now opposing TVA’s privatization? Alas, a number of these individuals may have, shall we say, personal reasons to keep this utility in government hands. An April 16 article by The Associated Press described Mr. Alexander as “a longtime TVA champion,” for instance. Forbes.com contributor and author Martin Fridson pointed out Friday that Mr. Duncan “represents Knoxville, where TVA is headquartered.”
To quote Shakespeare, “Aye, there’s the rub.”
Let’s leave those revelations aside for a moment. The fact remains that conservatives, libertarians and other right-leaning individuals shouldn’t have to be reminded that free-market principles always should be defended above and beyond the need to play politics.
To be sure, Mr. Obama has made many economic mistakes while in office. The $787 billion stimulus package and other wild spending measures received enormous criticism from the financial sector. The auto-bailout plan has exceeded $80 billion under this president’s watch, along with the irresponsible multibillion-dollar bailout of the financial sector to boot. Businesses are failing by the truckload, and monthly unemployment numbers remain high. Obamacare reportedly will cost in the neighborhood of $1 trillion and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, could lead to the loss of an estimated 80,000 jobs.
The GOP, therefore, has plenty of ammunition for going after Mr. Obama’s dismal economic record. If the past is any indicator, there will be countless numbers of other financial decisions to criticize now and in the future. A proposal to privatize TVA down the road isn’t one of them, however.
Here is my advice for the GOP: Drinking from the political Kool-Aid will only temporarily quench your thirst. A regular defense of capitalism, freedom and liberty always will prove much more satisfying. Hence, check your political egos at the door and support the president’s admirable TVA privatization proposal.
Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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