May 6, 2008 | Commentary on Energy and Environment
As millions of Americans prepare to spend their "stimulus" checks, the Senate is getting ready to debate what can be described as an enormous anti-stimulus bill. This legislation -- sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) -- is a "global warming" measure that could cripple our economy.
The Warner-Lieberman climate-change bill would cap greenhouse-gas emissions, making energy use more expensive at the same time as a record number of Americans are worried that the high and still-rising cost of energy threatens to reduce their current standard of living. According to a soon-to-be-released study by The Heritage Foundation, Lieberman-Warner would cost Americans hundreds of thousands of jobs annually and could double the price of electricity, natural gas and gasoline by 2030.
It's unlikely that Lieberman-Warner will become law this year. But the debate and votes in June will serve as a springboard for the next administration to pursue sweeping legislation that would cap emissions. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) have vowed to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. John McCain has been less forthcoming, although he once sponsored a similar package titled the "Climate Stewardship Act of 2003."
One thing is certain: McCain would push for an aggressive expansion of America's nuclear energy industry as part of any package. Clinton disregards the nuclear option and Obama has stated his tepid support for it. But McCain appears fully aware that America cannot reduce its carbon emissions and remain economically viable without more nuclear power. Will a majority of his Senate colleagues agree?
Gas Tax Holiday
President Bush has indicated that he might be open to a federal gas tax holiday over this summer to potentially lower the price of gasoline. McCain has promoted the idea, and Clinton has endorsed it aggressively. The conservative idea of cutting taxes to stimulate the economy may be realized - at least in small part -- in Congress in the next few weeks.
There are other actions Congress can take to lower gas prices at the pump. Congress could suspend environmental mandates that make it impossible to drill domestically and construct new refineries. As China and India consume more energy, the U.S. should drill more domestically, both on- and off-shore, to increase the domestic supply of oil and natural gas. The Department of Interior estimates that onshore federal lands contain abundant supplies of natural gas and 21 billion barrels of oil. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may contain as much as 10 billion barrels of oil. Areas near Florida's coast that are off limits to drilling may also contain massive deposits of oil and natural gas.
In addition, Congress could eliminate the mandate that ethanol be added to gasoline. The mandate was 4 billion gallons for 2006 -- a requirement that measurably increases gasoline prices for every American. Even if some conservatives criticize the gas-tax holiday idea as an election-year gimmick and express concern that we are getting away from user fees for roads and bridges, repealing the ethanol mandate may prompt lawmakers to shift the burden of tax collection and road building to the states, where it belongs.
The Power of Incumbency
Incumbents should be very worried this year. Congressional approval ratings are at 20% and President Bush's popularity is at historic lows. This may be the "Throw the Bums Out" year. Conservatives should be happy if some incumbents are sent packing, so new blood can come to Capitol Hill.
The Hill newspaper reports "worrisome news for Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.)" -- their approval ratings have sunk below 50%. Although they're still favored to win their respective races, the other 33 senators up for election should note that the Senate Republican Leader and the 2004 Democrat presidential nominee may be in for a tough year. Both will be favorites to hold their respective seats -- yet others in close races should be looking over their shoulder.
In 1986, the sixth year of Ronald Reagan's presidency, seven incumbent Republican senators lost as Democrats took control of the Senate with a 55-45 advantage. Two years ago, six Senate Republican incumbents felt the wrath of voters, and Democrats picked up 31 seats in the House. The Rothenberg Political Report has Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, Minnesota, Louisiana and New Hampshire listed as potential turnovers this fall in the Senate.
Brian Darling is director of US Senate relations and congressional analyst at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
First appeared in Human Events