read my lips no new taxes

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Last week on National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog, 16 wonks addressed the question: ”Is Washington Ready for a Carbon Tax?” Your humble servant argued that Washington is not ready — unless Republicans are willing to commit political suicide. That’s no reason for complacency, because spendaholics have on occasion gulled the Dumb Party into providing bi-partisan cover for unpopular tax hikes. President G.H.W. Bush’s disastrous repudiation of his ‘read-my-lips, no-new-taxes’ campaign pledge is the best known example.

To help avoid such debacles in the future, I will recap the main points of my National Journal blog commentary. Later this week, I’ll excerpt insightful comments by other contributors.

Nearly all Republicans in Congress have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a promise not to increase the net tax burden on their constituents. Although a “revenue neutral” carbon tax is theoretically possible, the sudden interest in carbon taxes is due to their obvious potential to feed Washington’s spending addiction. If even one dollar of the revenues from a carbon tax is used for anything except cutting other taxes, the scheme is a net tax increase and a Pledge violation. Wholesale promise-breaking by GOP leaders would outrage party’s activist base. 

Even if the Taxpayer Protection Pledge did not exist, the GOP is currently the anti-tax, pro-energy alternative to a Democratic leadership that is aggressively anti-energy and pro-tax. Endorsing a massive new energy tax would damage the product differentiation that gives people a reason to vote Republican. Recognizing these realities, House GOP leaders recently signed a ‘no climate tax’ pledge.

That’s good news. But this is a season of fiscal panic and I was there (in 1990) when the strength of Republicans failed. Perhaps the best time to kick carbon taxes is when they are down. So let’s review additional reasons to oppose a carbon tax. [click to continue…]