More Good Work from Senator Corker

Tue, 06 May 2008 14:35:38 +0000

I have in the past remarked favorably on how Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) has gone to work on fiscal matters. A new piece in National Review by Ramesh Ponnuru casts him in a favorable light on climate change, particularly as it pertains to cap-and-trade in the Lieberman-Warner bill, as well. Here are some good excerpts:

Early on, Corker decided that global warming was one of the top economic issues he would consider during his career. Unlike many other conservatives, he does not deny that the globe is warming. Nor does he spend time on the debate over how much of that warming is man-made. (That debate is something of a distraction: Even if sunspots have caused the warming, it might pose risks that we have to do something about.) He does not even say that he opposes cap and trade. He presents himself as merely raising concerns about the current version of it. He wants a "more informed conversation" about the bill, so as to get "a better product."

So far, so good--he hasn't offended the scientists. Ponnuru then succinctly describes a preference for cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax as primarily a political, not an economic choice:

Most senators do not know much about global-warming policy. Senator McCain, for example, is an enthusiastic proponent of cap and trade. He sees it as an alternative to a carbon tax that would raise the price of gasoline, which he wants to lower. Actually, cap and trade would raise the price of gasoline too, and quite significantly, as oil companies passed along the legislation's costs to consumers.

Most economists, whether they favor cap and trade or not, see it as very similar to a carbon tax in its effects. The major difference is political. Senators know that voters would rebel against a direct increase in energy taxes. Cap and trade is an elaborately disguised version of the same thing. In addition, cap and trade would create more pressure groups with a financial interest in the government's policy.

So, enter Senator Corker, to help remove the disguise:

States would get emission permits too. They would be expected to sell them and then use the proceeds to promote energy efficiency, mass transit, and the like. Corker asks: If Congress is not willing to spend all this money directly on mass transit, what's the point of doing it indirectly? Other, that is, than to disguise the wealth transfers taking place?

Corker has been nearly alone in raising these points. "The level of understanding around this issue in the House and Senate is lower than any issue I'm aware of," he says. Even on an issue as complex as health care, he notes, elected officials have "some practical experience." They rarely do on energy policy.

Corker plans to offer several amendments to the bill. He wants any money raised by auctions to be returned to taxpayers. He thinks that other energy subsidies should be cut. If we are setting up a quasi-market to determine how energy sources should be used within our emissions goals, he asks, what is the point of spending money on particular energy sources as well? And he will support other Republicans as they make the case for relying more on nuclear power. If the amendments pass, he says, he will have improved the bill. If they do not, he will have educated people about its drawbacks.

I'm less a fan of nuclear energy than is indicated about Corker, but he's right to acknowledge that the way out of our energy and environmental challenges is to have fossil fuels that are more expensive, not less expensive, and to insist on that being done in a transparent way. This is what I think a conservative should be doing in the Senate. It's nice to know we've got one, even if he doesn't have much company.

In a debate earlier this year, Senator Obama got this point about cap-and-trade raising energy costs to the consumer right as well. In the current fiasco over the gas tax holiday, Corker has also drawn the same conclusions as Obama, accurately describing the policy as "pandering extraordinaire." On this issue, it is easy for a conservative to identify with Obama in the three-way race for President.