May 20, 2009 | Commentary on Energy and Environment

Waxman's Workover

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is the top dealmaker who wants to re-design America's economy -- and possibly destroy it -- under the guise of saving the Earth from global warming. His deals have bought off coal state Dems (represented by Virginia's Rick Boucher) and those representing automakers' states (such as Michigan's John Dingell).

After weeks of horse-trading, Waxman is bringing his bill up for final revisions in committee this week and it may soon go to a vote in the full House.

Waxman's energy tax bill (co-authored with Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.) was already a complicated mess. His latest horse-trading for votes has added about $2 trillion to the 25-year cost of the bill. According to a new Heritage Foundation analysis, the revised bill will cost $9.6 trillion and 2.5 million jobs during that period, as well as a reduced standard of living.

Nothing about this is simple. Republicans are said to have 450 amendments to offer as Waxman's House Energy and Commerce Committee considers the bill. Waxman must fend them off while he keeps cutting deals to get favorable votes from at least 30 committee members.

If Waxman's bill becomes law, businesses will be forced to buy, sell and trade permits in a process that will resemble Congress' buying, selling and trading votes over this bill.

The measure establishes a "cap-and-trade" quota for emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases, with businesses required to buy emission permits. They will pass along the massive costs to consumers.

At least 14 different buyoffs -- oops, Waxman calls them "emission allowances"-- were in the amended bill unveiled last week. Each has its own intricate details, timeframes and hoops to jump through. Each is a legislative double threat which can serve as money for some beneficiaries and tax exemptions for others.

Since it sets a limited cap on the overall emissions of CO2 in the USA, the bill limits Americans' freedom by ending the availability of cheap energy, and reducing our ability to compete with the rest of the world.

However, there's nothing cheap about Waxman's buying of votes to pass his bill.

Utility companies would get 35% of the allowances, which still is not enough for them to produce electricity at their current levels. Automakers would get 3%. Another 5% would be given to "energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries," which will mean whoever lobbyists can get included in the definitions. These and most other allowances will lapse in or before 2030.

But there's a permanent 5% allowance up for grabs by whoever claims they're protecting overseas tropical forests. And a permanent 15% would be auctioned off by government each year and re-distributed politically to offset the higher energy bills of "low- and moderate-income families." (If you live in Speaker Pelosi's San Francisco area, you can make $66,000 a year and qualify for this assistance.) Some have started calling this "energy welfare."

According to Waxman's own document, he's already given away 102% of the intended allowances and still claims to hold some in reserve for more Congressional horse-trading. The unseemliness is not unnoticed, such as by The New York Times:

Cap and trade . . . is almost perfectly designed for the buying and selling of political support through the granting of valuable emissions permits to favor specific industries and even specific Congressional districts. That is precisely what is taking place now in the House Energy and Commerce Committee . . .

Republicans are almost totally opposed (with possible exceptions such as Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), who has an enormous windmill farm in her district). That unity has some Democrats skittish. They recall the party-line 1993 House vote for Pres. Bill Clinton's proposed BTU tax, which was blocked in the U.S. Senate. The vote became a major factor that helped create a GOP majority in 1994's elections. The concern is whether history might repeat itself. Senate prospects for Waxman's bill are iffy, even though President Obama wants it -- and insists he must have the revenue to finance his ambitious health-care makeover plans.

President Obama didn't help his cause when he admitted that electricity bills "would skyrocket" under cap and trade. The Heritage Foundation's report calculates higher energy bills of $1,500 a year for a family of four, even after they reduce their consumption, plus higher prices for almost everything as add-on costs of producing and transporting goods are passed along to consumers. To meet the total costs, the family would lose $4,000 annually from its household budget.

So what is the supposed benefit from all of this? By 2025, at the cost of trillions, Earth's temperatures might drop by a few hundredths of a degree. By the end of the century, the projected drop would be only two-tenths of one degree. That will never be noticed, as Americans are forced to adjust their thermostats by far more, making the indoors hotter in the summer and colder in the winter.

Yet a fresh national poll shows 58% of Americans unwilling to pay anything more at all on their electric bills to combat climate change. Just 26% said they'd approve of paying $10 more a month. None said they'd support the $100 or more a month that Waxman and Obama would add to their bill.

The biggest impact may be on political climate, not global climate, because a lot of people will be red-hot under the collar.

Ernest Istook is recovering from serving 14 years in Congress and is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Ernest Istook Distinguished Fellow
Government Studies

First Appeared in Human Events