Republicans in the House of Representatives are flocking to support a bill to extend and create a number of taxpayer-funded subsidies for manufacturers and buyers of vehicles powered by natural gas. Nearly eighty House Republicans (and a hundred Democrats) have signed up as sponsors of H. R. 1380, the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act (or NAT GAS Act). Just call it the T. Boone Pickens Earmark Bill.
Many conservative Republicans in the House, particularly a number of new Members with Tea Party connections, have sworn that the fiscal and economic crisis confronting America requires a radical change in federal policies. Out-of-control spending must be stopped; spending earmarks must be abolished; crony capitalists on the prowl for corporate welfare must be sent packing; subsidies for special interests must be abolished; government must stop interfering in the economy and let free markets work.
That big talk doesn’t seem to apply when the spending is being earmarked for a crony capitalist who is one of the biggest contributors to Republican candidates in history–billionaire T. Boone Pickens. Apparently, some subsidies are good if they benefit the right special interests. And government interference in the economy is wonderful if it is done in the name of reducing oil imports.
H. R. 1380 would extend the tax credit of 50 cents per gallon of liquid natural gas (or its equivalent of compressed natural gas) when used for fueling vehicles and provide purchasers of natural gas vehicles with credits ranging from $7,500 to $64,000. The lower end is for passenger cars and the upper end for big trucks. There are also credits for natural gas vehicle manufacturers and for installing natural gas fueling stations.
Why are billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded subsidies needed? According to T. Boone Pickens’s web site, it’s because natural gas vehicles are cheaper to operate than gasoline or diesel vehicles: “Even with higher initial costs (which will disappear as manufacturing ramps up) the life-cycle costs of NGVs [natural gas vehicles] are significantly lower. Fuel costs are at least 15 percent less using natural gas rather than gasoline or diesel.”
So people need to be paid in order to make them want to buy vehicles that will save them money. Yes, that makes sense: I always prefer the more expensive product unless there is a government rebate for the cheaper one. Call it the Boonedoggle bill.
As for getting us off foreign oil, this claim is trotted out to support every payoff to special interests in the energy sector. It’s a claim for which little evidence is ever produced. What will reduce our dependence on foreign oil is producing more of it in this country. What the bill will do is increase demand for natural gas, which will tend to increase prices for natural gas, which means a big payoff for T. Boone Pickens, who has invested heavily in–you’ll never guess–natural gas.
It’s sad to look at the list of conservatives who claim to be principled who have signed up to support the Boonedoggle. Here’s the complete list of Republican sponsors as of today. The chief sponsor is Rep. John Sullivan of Oklahoma. Most surprising and perhaps most disappointing is Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who claims that he votes against everything that isn’t in the Constitution. I seemed to have missed the section of the Constitution that allows taking billions of dollars from taxpayers to give to fatcat billionaires and corporate welfare queens. Call it the Pickens-Your-Pocket bill.
This stampede by conservatives, including several freshmen who identify with the Tea Party, to support the T. Boone Pickens Earmark Bill makes a mockery of their claims to want to cut federal spending, eliminate subsidies to special interests, and get government out of people’s lives. We’re very close to returning to business as usual in Washington.