- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2011

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on Monday offered a comprehensive-sounding prescription for reversing what he said was the downward slide of the economy — and of America’s global standing.

In what sounded like a preview of an expected 2012 presidential-nomination bid, the 63-year-old former Republican Party chairman gave a pointed critique of President Obama’s energy and economic policies, and raised the prospect that “within 15 years, the U.S. will be forced to borrow money from foreign governments to pay for our military” if the country did not address a series of national security challenges.

“Perhaps even worse, in about five years, the amount we pay China in interest on the U.S. debt they hold will be enough to fund their entire military,” Mr. Barbour said.

What are needed are the “right incentives” to induce both American and foreign businesses to invest here rather than abroad, he said.

Mr. Barbour, expected to announce his presidential intentions this spring, gave his critique in a lunchtime speech in Chicago at the start of a week in which he’ll travel to the early-caucus state of Iowa and to California.

To stop losing the “global battle for capital,” Mr. Barbour said, the United States will have to make its tax codes conducive to investing in new plants, equipment and jobs, adding that even those changes won’t succeed unless Americans reverse a brain drain by making the United States attractive for the world’s most talented people.

The Mississippi governor also warned that the Obama energy policy, which he said favored higher gasoline prices as a way to discourage oil consumption and encourage alternative fuels, was a recipe for disaster.

“Let me say flatly: Four-dollar gasoline is bad for our economy, bad for small and large businesses and bad for American families. Period. No caveat,” he said in a speech to the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

He also blasted Mr. Obama for making the Gulf of Mexico oil-drilling moratorium into what Mr. Barbour characterized as a “perma-torium,” for placing more Alaskan oil off-limits to exploration and for impeding shale-oil and coal production.

He faulted the Obama administration for policies that he said helped push the price of oil to $90 a barrel even before the current Middle East turmoil, despite the existence of “6 [million] to 8 million barrels a day in excess petroleum-production capacity in the world.”

Mr. Barbour’s prescription for U.S. energy-independence policy tracked policies pushed by every president since Gerald R. Ford in the mid-1970s.

A Barbour aide said the governor, whose term expires in a year, will use future speeches to address the political turmoil in the oil-producing Middle East and demands caused by soaring growth in hugely populous countries, such as China and India.

That combination of uncertain supply and rising demand makes holding down energy prices — and energy-sensitive food prices — a herculean task, especially given the long lead time to drill new oil wells, exploit sources such as shale rock, open new coal mines and begin construction of new nuclear-power plants.

In his remarks in Chicago, Mr. Barbour put special emphasis on maintaining America’s talent pool.

“When a student from India gets a Ph.D. in engineering from Mississippi State, odds are he’ll go home because we won’t let him stay,” Mr. Barbour observed.

“So he starts a business in Mumbai that employs 1,800 people. We ought to staple a green card to his diploma, so he can start that business and employ 1,800 people in Memphis,” said Mr. Barbour, who won wide praise inside the party for his tenure as chairman from 1994 to 1997.

As a sign of a looming campaign, Mr. Barbour hired veteran GOP campaign consultant Jim Dyke to advise Haley’s PAC, a vehicle he established in 2004. His political action committee last year raised $1.1 million and donated $148,000 to GOP candidates for federal office, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

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