GOP needs a better response to Obama’s oil tax proposal

GOP needs a better response to Obama’s oil tax proposal

By D.R. Tucker

In a March 1998 speech at a Republican fundraiser in New Hampshire, former Congressman and Vice Presidential candidate the late Jack Kemp declared, “It isn’t enough to be against [Democrats]…It is not enough that we tell people [the things] to which we are opposed. We have a moral, social, political responsibility to outline, particularly in the eyes of those young people, what we are for.”

Kemp passed away nearly a decade ago, but his good advice lives on — and this advice should be followed by those critical of President Obama’s proposal to levy a $10-per-barrel fee on oil, with the collected proceeds being used to modernize transportation and expand clean energy in the United States:

Think Progress reports that Obama’s proposal “would have to go through a Republican-controlled Congress hostile to the president’s energy and environmental initiatives. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) said ‘Congress should and will reject it,’ according to Politico transportation reporter Lauren Gardner…House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) called the plan “Dead on Arrival.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in a statement that the ‘[P]resident should be proposing policies to grow our economy instead of sacrificing it to appease progressive climate activists,’ and said it was an ‘election-year distraction’ that ‘this lame-duck president knows’ is ‘dead on arrival in Congress.’”

Let’s parse Speaker Ryan’s statement for a moment. He states that Obama “should be proposing policies to grow our economy,” implying that this proposal would not. He suggests that Obama is attempting to “appease progressive climate activists,” ignoring the abundant polling evidence that concern for the climate is profoundly bipartisan in nature. He calls the initiative an “election-year distraction,” though it’s not clear to whom. He also proclaims it “dead on arrival in Congress.” However, that raises the question: what is Congress’s alternative proposal to address the issues of transportation and clean energy? Ryan, after all, was a protege of Jack Kemp.

Ryan might want to consult with Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) about market-based alternatives to President Obama’s vision. Curbelo — who recently formed the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus with fellow Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) — has emerged as one of the GOP’s most powerful voices on climate and energy concerns. As Newsweek’s Nina Burleigh recently reported:

“A freshman Republican from suburban Miami, Representative Carlos Curbelo, has taken a leadership role on Capitol Hill on climate change. Like [Senator Marco] Rubio, Curbelo is a young, second-generation Cuban-American. He says there’s a middle way between alarm and ignoring the problem…[Last year], Curbelo [authored] an op-ed for The Miami Herald headlined ‘Climate Change Cannot Be a Partisan Issue.’ He was the first House Republican co-sponsor of a resolution last year acknowledging that climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another Miami Republican, also signed on.”

In that op-ed, Rep. Curbelo observed, “Enacting policies that encourage the private sector to invest, not only in general infrastructure projects, but long-term visionary technologies, will lead to economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. Tax incentives for developing energy sources like solar, wind and hydropower are just one way of encouraging America’s innovators to develop advanced solutions. And this energy transition cannot exclude low-income Americans…I understand the reluctance that some of my Congressional colleagues and fellow Americans have about investing in renewable energy sources to address a problem whose impacts are not immediately noticeable. However, accelerating clean energy efforts in the present will minimize the risk of serious climate-change effects and overbearing regulations in the future.”

Curbelo is meeting the responsibility Kemp discussed eighteen years ago — the responsibility of Republicans to present alternative proposals, not merely criticize the proposals of Democrats. Let’s hope Kemp’s old ally teams up with Curbelo to make sure that the U.S. House takes needed measures to protect what Pope Francis calls our common home.

D.R. Tucker is a member of CCL’s Blog Team and a CCL volunteer in Boston.

Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.