By Peter Bearse
As someone on the campaign trail said to me recently: “Obama is trying to boil the ocean;” -- trying to do too much all at once. There’s too little priority setting in the Obama White House. Will he listen to advice from the outside? -- not likely, but let’s give some, anyway. The exercise might help to shape opposition into a force that can take back our government in two steps -- 2010 and 2012.
The economy comes first. If the U.S. economy doesn’t start to grow again, all bets are off. Obama is in danger of becoming another LBJ -- brought down by hubris and/or a vainglorious assumption that we can have both guns and butter without asking sacrifice from the great American majority.
The second priority is the “AfPak Theater” of war. The battle to spare Afghanistan and Pakistan from the tender mercies of the Taliban and their Al Queda allies is crucial to America‘s national security. This battle is intimately connected to the campaign to replace our dependence upon foreign oil and other carbon-based energy sources with renewable energy resources. The latter depends on an effective fight to steadily reduce our carbon “footprint”. These joint challenges call for a President who is capable of alerting the American people to the long-run consequences of failing to address them now, aggressively, and calling on a national spirit of sacrifice to win the battles.
Before turning to how the “national spirit” can be mobilized, one may well ask: What becomes of national health care reform in this picture of priorities? One answer is FUHGETABOUTIT. This would put the issue on the back burner until the AfPak Theater is secure. The other answer is heard from Republicans -- to focus upon and resolve a few key problems, such as a national market for health insurance, health savings accounts and tort reform. This answer has been declared DUA (Dead Upon Arrival) by the Democrats on Capitol Hill, but they and their ways of doing the public’s business are:
(1) Incapable of dealing with any complex issue like healthcare reform without vast increases in present and future costs to taxpayers and the generation of unanticipated (“unintended”) consequences, and
(2) Corrupted by Members‘ dependence on big money for reelection campaigns.
So, Obama should fund necessary research on what works to reduce health care costs and improve health services delivery. In the meantime, FUHGETABOUT forcing through a costly patchwork and calling it “reform.”
As for mobilizing the nation, only a President can call for national sacrifice, but how? Obama the speechifier could make a strong case for sacrifice to both secure the AfPak Theater and cut our dependence on foreign oil. After all, they are both national security issues. The means? In the past, Presidents have called for taxes, shifts in production, constraints on consumption and the sale of “War Bonds” to finance battles and shift resources into the production of war materiel. Besides weapons for our fighting men and women, the latter now include goods and services to provide energy from renewable sources.
As for “taxes,” the best option to provide both needed [non-debt increasing] financing and spur the move from oil to renewable sources of energy would be what is called the “carbon tax.” This label is untruth in advertising because the so-called “tax” is not a tax; it would be a fee per ton of carbon pollution. Thus, the dollar cost would go down as less carbon is emitted into the atmosphere. This provides an efficient and fair way of dealing with environmental concerns, including global warming and climate change. So, then we could also say to Obama with respect to Cap’nTrade, another badly flawed bill before the Congress, FUHGETABOUTIT! A carbon emissions fee would also be more fair to American industry than Cap’nTrade. Import charges proportional to the carbon “footprints” of imports could be levied on the imports of countries that are not taking counterpart actions to reduce their industries’ carbon emissions.
A small portion of the tax revenues could be used to fund applied R&D on alternative energy sources. The rest would go to finance the fight in the AfPak Theater and help to reduce our huge national deficit. Remember that Eisenhower’s massive plan to build a national highway system was sold to the American public as a National Defense Highway system, funded in part by a gas tax.
Let’s get some discussion going on these options before it’s too late. Comments are welcome via this website venue and/or to email@example.com or to the campaign website blog.
PETER BEARSE, Ph.D., International Consulting Economist and Independent Republican Candidate for Congress in NH CD 1