congressman dingell takes my advice and pursues a gas tax

I’d wanted to type that headline for a while now. I’ve dreamed of the day that the Congressman would come to realize that a tax on consumption was the way to go if we really wanted to break free of the stranglehold petroleum had on us. I wrote him letters. I exchanged notes with his people. I held out hope that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance that he, in his position as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, might one day have the courage to look beyond the short-term concerns of auto industry executives and do the right thing. Well, you can only imagine how happy I was a few days ago, when I read that he was spearheading an initiative to raise the federal gas tax by 50 cents a gallon. Then, of course, I read the small print to find out that he didn’t really mean it. No, he was being completely disingenuous. It was little more than a political stunt. Here, before I dive into the chest-deep political bullshit, is a clip from “Time” on the actual content of his proposal:

….(It) would boost the federal gasoline tax by 50 cents a gallon… and establish a “double digit” tax on each ton of carbon dioxide emissions. The federal tax on a gallon of gas is now 18.4 cents and has not risen in 14 years…

Now for the bullshit. According to Dingell, he was just doing it to make a point. He wanted to demonstrate that Americans wouldn’t stand for a significant tax on gas. So, instead of stepping forward like a real leader would during a time of crisis and working to build consensus around a plan that might see us transition away from oil, he decided to use the idea of a gas tax as a political hand grenade to scuttle the legitimate efforts of others… I try to keep a fairly open mind about things, and I realize that DIngell is, in part, trying to protect the jobs of what remain of his automotive industry constituents, but I find this absolutely despicable…. You know who likes the maneuver though? The Wall Street Journal.” They think it was a brilliant way for him to derail the discussion in Congress about raising CAFE standards as part of the new energy bill. Here’s a clip:

This week’s prize for honest liberalism goes to Michigan’s John Dingell, who is having fun with his fellow Democrats while also making a useful point about the politics of global warming. The venerable Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee–first elected in 1955–has announced that he plans to introduce as early as this week a new tax on carbon emissions.

Now, that’s the way to clear a Capitol Hill hearing room. Americans are already miffed at paying $3 a gallon for gasoline, a fact that has the Members assailing oil companies on a daily basis. So the last thing Democrats seeking re-election want to do is pile on another dollar or two a gallon in taxes–especially in the name of “saving the planet” from the speculative danger of global warming 50 or 100 years from now. Their voters have to deal with the more immediate danger of missing the mortgage payment.

Mr. Dingell knows all this. His point is to force his colleagues–and the voters–to be more honest about the cost of their global-warming posturing. It’s one thing to pay 100 bucks to hear Madonna at the “Live Earth” concert, or impress your girlfriend by wearing an “I reduced my carbon footprint” T-shirt. It’s quite another to accept that energy prices would have to rise by many multiples to make even a degree’s worth of difference to the world’s climate. “I sincerely doubt that the American people will be willing to pay what this is really going to cost them,” Mr. Dingell said on C-SPAN last week….

Regarding such a tax, Democrats already have some hard political experience. In 1993, Vice President Al Gore convinced Bill Clinton to propose an energy tax on BTU (British thermal units) usage. That would have added about 12 cents a gallon to the price of gas. House Democrats walked the plank and passed it, only to have Senate Democrats kill it. As much as anything else, that vote cost Democrats control of the House in 1994. Now Mr. Gore has embraced the carbon tax once again–though we still haven’t heard him endorse a direct tax on gas or consumers…

If Congressional Democrats are really serious about global warming, they’d nonetheless have the courage of their professed convictions: Take the Dingell honesty test and vote to raise carbon taxes. We suspect along with Mr. Dingell, however, that keeping Senate and House seats is going to trump saving the planet…

They’re probably right, of course. Few will rally around the phony flag that Dingell has hoisted. Maybe, if he’d taken the floor of the House and said something inspirational, they might have, but he didn’t. He didn’t make the case passionately. He admitted to it being a stunt, essentially taunting his fellow Congressman to bite at the career-ending bait… Here’s a clip from the Associated Press:

…Dingell is under pressure from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to put forward a bill on climate change this fall. He is counting on his proposal being unpopular to make a statement.

“I will be introducing in the next little bit a carbon tax bill, just to sort of see how people really feel about this,” he said. “When you see the criticism I get, I think you’ll see the answer to your question.”

Personally, I’d love to see it pass. It’s not what he’s expecting, but maybe the best thing to do is to rally around him like a hero. I’d love to inundate Dingell’s office with letters of appreciation, thanking him for having the balls to do the right thing. But, it’ll probably play out just like he’s betting it will. Everyone will back away from it, it’ll wither on the vine, and no one will have the political courage to come forward for another decade to do what has to be done.

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  1. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 12, 2007 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    “I sincerely doubt that the American people will be willing to pay what this is really going to cost them,” Mr. Dingell said.

    That’s our national moral crisis. Gays, drugs, abortion, are all distractions for both sides.

    American morality is cost-effective. National health care. Local parks. Pocketbook values. Money is our root. Dingell knows his public.

  2. egpenet
    Posted July 12, 2007 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    So, I occurs to me that Ypsi’s civic leaders have learned their politics from Dingell … scare folks and they’ll get the message. The President does it by scaring us with Al Qaeda. And the Dems do it now with gas taxes.

    Americans don’t fear or hate taxes. What we don’t like and we hate very much is being lied to. A flat tax across the board federally, and a bit more of the same at the state level would be fine with us. Cut out all the other BS … flat taxes across the board for all.

    Locally, with the feds and the state getting all they need, we’d have no more thjan our usual problems. And we’d have a solvent fed, a soklvent state, plus health care and no more Michael Moore movies to worry about.

    OK … the Advil is kicking in. To sleep … perchance to dream. Yikes, there’s the rub!

  3. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 12, 2007 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Funny EgP, I thought Dingell had learned his politics from citizens: “I want everything, as long as it doesn’t cost me anything.”

  4. egpenet
    Posted July 13, 2007 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    He learned his politics from Walter Reuther and Jimmy Hoffa! And Council learned from Dingell.

    Yup. Advil’s kicking in. G’nite.

  5. Jim
    Posted July 13, 2007 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Dingell’s stunt only demonstrates what we all already know: that it’s very difficult to persuade people to accept a new tax. To get people to accept a new tax you need to lower another tax by an equal amount, or to designate the revenue for a specific and popular purpose, like achieving energy independence. Of course, it’s still a very hard sell. We so much wanted to believe Bush’s claim that we could have irresponsible tax cuts during a time of war that we reelected him. With this cynical proposal, Dingell shows himself to be a follower of popular opinion rather than a leader.

    BTW, have you seen this ad? I think readers of this blog will like it:

  6. UBU
    Posted July 14, 2007 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    now if he only listens to you about shaving his balls…

  7. mark
    Posted July 17, 2007 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    From a note I just today received from Dingell:

    Thank you for your interest in the progression of events in Washington, D.C. and the 15th District of Michigan. I am sure you know both places have been full of activity.

    I am currently hard at work on legislation that will address our nation’s energy needs while also taking on the climate change crisis that faces our entire planet. Recently, the committee in which I Chair, the Committee on Energy & Commerce, reported an energy efficiency bill that we will soon consider on the floor of the House that would remove 8.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is an amount equal to the annual emissions of all the cars on the road in America today. This is an important first step, but it is only the beginning.

    I am now working on a comprehensive climate change bill and have set ambitious goals and targets for that legislation. It should stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at levels that will avoid or avert large-scale climate change consequences. That will require a reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions of between 60, and perhaps as much as 80, percent by 2050.

    How to get there will be the hard part. We need to put everything into the discussion, whether it is politically salable or not. That means a mandatory cap and trade system, and some form of carbon emission fees. As we move into the summer and fall, I will be working diligently on this legislation. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and concerns as we address this global crisis. For more information on what I am doing to change our nation’s policies concerning energy security and climate change, click here.

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