- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hidden tax

“First, do no harm. If physicians can abide by that precept, why shouldn’t the president - especially in a turbulent time like now?” Rocky Mountain News columnist Vincent Carroll writes.

“If a policy is likely to damage economic growth, then don’t do it, or at least not until we’ve emerged from the scariest downturn in the history of anyone under the age of 80,” Mr. Carroll said.

“Alas, no such luck. The Obama administration is reportedly plowing ahead with plans to limit carbon emissions through a ‘cap-and-trade’ system that would involve the selling and trading of emissions permits.

“Such a system works to reduce carbon emissions only if it drives up the price of energy. And as Tribune Washington reporter Jim Tankersley (always a straight-shooter when he worked at the Rocky) put it in a story this week, ‘Cap-and-trade would amount to a tax, raising energy costs. And several independent studies have suggested that emissions limits could be a drag on economic growth … .’

“Just what we need: another ball and chain on the economy. But of course administration officials and their Suzy Sunshine allies in the environmental movement argue that the program will stimulate growth by promoting clean-energy industries, as if the vitality of that small market segment were the alpha and omega of our economic health.”

Car crash

“Why kick the auto industry when it’s down?” Wall Street Journal columnist Holman W. Jenkins Jr. asks.

“Because it’s down,” he wrote, answering his own question.

President Obama rolled out his first big gesture on energy and the environment this week. It consisted of a cunning, even brutal judgment - we’re tempted to liken it to the besieged submarine commander in the movies who fills his torpedo tubes with his dead comrades and jettisons them overboard to fool the enemy destroyer circling overhead.

“In this case, the circling destroyer is Mr. Obama’s green constituency, hungry for a gesture on climate change and energy independence. The dead crewmen are the Detroit automakers. They’ve already been blown to pieces by last year’s runup in gas prices and then the credit meltdown. They’ll hardly notice an additional blow in Mr. Obama’s EPA likely granting a California request to regulate vehicular emissions of carbon dioxide, which means effectively stepped-up fuel-mileage mandates stiffer than the federal government’s.

“Never mind the absurdity of the issue. California has received waivers to set its own Clean Air Act rules since the very beginning because California suffered unique air pollution problems. California does not suffer unique global warming problems. In no way is the state uniquely affected by the climate risks posed by tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide. California politicians were acting purely in a grandstanding capacity to seek such a waiver. Mr. Obama would be acting from purely a least-cost political calculation in granting it.”

Paterson’s gift

“One of the most hotly debated questions surrounding the elections held from 2005 to 2008 is whether they represented a rejection of conservatism, of Republicans, or merely of President George W. Bush,” Sean Trende writes at www.realclearpolitics.com.

“Republicans and conservatives hoped and argued that the latter factor was the predominant one in the back-to-back GOP routs, and that Republicans would bounce back relatively quickly after President Bush exited the national stage,” Mr. Trende said.

“This view gained some currency in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 elections. Republican Saxby Chambliss won a special election in Georgia by a hefty margin that looked much more like a ‘normal’ Republican victory margin in Georgia than did his three-point lead on Election Day. In a subsequent special election, Republicans held a seat in Northwest Louisiana that was similar to other Southern seats in which they had recently been losing. They also defeated scandal-tarred Rep. William Jefferson in his heavily Democratic district.

“While it is dangerous to read too much into special election results of any kind, these ‘normal’ looking results gave some hope to Republicans that their long nightmare was over, and that dissatisfaction with Republicans was dissipating.

“Now, David Paterson has given Republicans a golden opportunity to lend further credence to this interpretation. By appointing sophomore Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate seat vacated by now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Gov. Paterson has given three gifts to the New York GOP: He has opened up a district that is likely to flip back to them, he has made a much more competitive race for the Senate seat than there otherwise would have been, and he has appointed the most conservative Democrat to the seat.”

Silly coverage

“The conflict-addicted Washington press corps must have missed the part of President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech admonishing the country to put away childish things. Or so it would seem from the silly coverage of the friendly, bipartisan White House meeting on the stimulus bill last Friday. Even worse, they missed the real story: the power jockeying going on within the Democratic family,” Dan Gerstein writes at www.forbes.com.

“For those who missed Friday’s doings, here’s a quick recap. First came a mindless mini-frenzy over Obama’s playful reminder during the meeting that he won the election. Then came the breathless declarations by reporters and anchors that the new comity and bipartisanship Obama had promised were almost dead and buried just four days into his administration - simply because some Republicans expressed some disagreement with some portions of the House legislation.

“That’s right. No one called the president a liar. Or accused him of promoting socialism. Or threatened to drown the bill in the bathtub. Republicans just went back to talking like fiscal conservatives and arguing against social spending they believe won’t stimulate the economy or help the middle class. Which is to say, they criticized the policies, not the person advocating them. That sure sounds like change to me,” Mr. Gerstein said.

“The great irony in all of this is that while the press corps was over-blowing the relatively tame partisan differences on the bill, they were overlooking the far more interesting and consequential fight that is brewing within the president’s own ranks over the pork-like provisions the Republicans are protesting.”

• Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or Greg Pierce.

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