By Timothy P. Carney
Rather than stopping the rise of the oceans, President Barack Obamaâ€™s push for greenhouse gas regulations is turning into another all-you-can-eat porkfest. As Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., prepares to introduce a climate bill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee he chairs, big businesses and their well-connected lobbyists are lining up with the hope of getting rich off these regulations.
An early winner looks to be the power companies, represented in Washington by the Edison Electric Institute. U.S. automakers, soon to be controlled in part by the labor unions who so generously fund the Democratic Party, are also among a handful of likely beneficiaries of this legislation.
Waxmanâ€™s bill, set to be drafted in committee next week, is centered on a cap-and-trade mechanism for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Under cap-and-trade, the government requires many GHG emitters, such as power plants and factories, to â€œpay forâ€ their emissions with special credits, with government controlling the supply.
If an emitter needs more credits, he buys them on the open market from someoneâ€”another emitter or a dealerâ€”who has excess credits. The question for lawmakers: How to allocate the credits originally. Environmentalists want Washington to auction them all. Affected industries want credits given away.
Considering the anti-business and pro-environment rhetoric of ruling Democrats, you might expect all businesses would have to pay for all emissions. But the rule of thumb in Washingtonâ€”at least as true in Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosiâ€™s Washington as it was in George W. Bush and Tom DeLayâ€™s Washingtonâ€”is that no important bill passes unless a well-connected special interest benefits from it. Following the rule, climate change legislation is starting to look like the stimulus bill: a buffet of handouts.
Currently, Waxmanâ€™s bill gives away about half the credits, with most free credits going to the power industry. Edison Electric, the trade group representing these companies, has endorsed this bill.
Itâ€™s unsurprising the power companies should get their way. Data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that the electric utility industryâ€™s political action committees contributed $12.3 million to candidates last electionâ€”more than the PACs of the oil and gas, commercial bank, investment, real estate, or telecom industriesâ€”and nearly as much as all defense PACs.
Last quarter, the Edison Electric Institute spent $2.6 million on lobbying, placing it 28th overall, just ahead of defense giant Boeing. The group retained 17 outside lobbying firms and employed at least 11 in-house lobbyists.
Early drafts of Waxmanâ€™s bill will also include GHG credit giveaways to some manufacturers that are â€œtrade sensitiveâ€â€”such as steelmakers and carmakers. These companies, of course, are also very well connected politically.
Then thereâ€™s the issue of how government should spend auction proceeds. General Electric, bailed out automakers promising green cars, and wind and solar investors are at the front of the queue to dig into this new trough of porkbarrel funds.
And now we see what its all about. This is the hidden agenda behind all of it. An excuse to add pork to legislation. This is how politicians (Dems and Reps alike) stay in office.
We need a third or fourth political party in this country- plus we need to change the way campaigns are financed, etc.
Neil, there is no “hidden aganda” in this situation. It’s just politics as usual. You should try and view some things as separate from “conspiracy.”
The main reason for the maintenance of the status quo is to deny the equitable distribution of wealth inside this country. The Right has been incredibly successful at fomenting the Ayn Randian construction which worships selfishness in such great glory that it is enshrined in public policy. The result has been an incredible transfer of money over the last three decades, the decimation of the middle class, and a polarization of wealth that has put us now on par with any well-functioning banana republic one might care to choose. Obama seems completely disinclined toward moving the country on this issue, even away from the worst extremes of Reaganism-Bushism, but imagine what could be accomplished if he starter chastising the malefactors of wealth for their greed? Actually, we donâ€™t have to imagine. Itâ€™s been done before, and we already know, now better than ever, the effects.
Campaign finance and electoral process is another domain that could produce enormous bang for every buck of political capital spent. By framing the issue as one of invigorating American democracy, Obama could generate enormous pressure leading to reforms it would be ludicrous to resist, generating wholesale enfranchisement of huge swathes of Americans today effectively blocked from voting. This could change forever the politics of this country.
Similarly, so much of where we go wrong in America is rooted in our system of campaign finance. As even John McCain once said, â€œAmerica gets the best Congress money can buyâ€. Lots of Americans get enraged about taxes and pork barrel spending, but in doing so they (conveniently) miss the big picture.
The problem is way deeper and way more fundamental. If a president were ever to lead on this, we could perhaps break the stranglehold that special interests have, not just on spending, but on policy. Almost every issue domain in American politics would turn out differently if special interestâ€™s interests (the ultra rich) were divorced from policy-making
Plus, rather than “pork” being the “hidden aganda” behind all this- I thought the “destruction of America” was- ?? your words not mine.