President Barack Obama is now calling the carbon trading scheme that is supposed to heal the planet a “cap-and trade-thing.” That can’t be a good sign for the concept.
Here is the president in New Hampshire yesterday: “”The most controversial aspects of the energy debate that we’ve been having — the House passed an energy bill and people complained about, well, there’s this cap and trade thing. And you just mentioned, let’s do the fun stuff before we do the hard stuff. The only thing I would say about it is this: We may be able to separate these things out. And it’s conceivable that that’s where the Senate ends up.”
Whatever the impact on the environment, the probable demise of President Barack Obama’s cap-and-trade carbon plan would be a much bigger fiscal failure for the White House than the implosion of healthcare reform, at least over the near term. Taxing carbon was the hidden key to funding his administration’s policy agenda while limiting budget deficits. Now the White House is scrambling for a realistic Plan B.
For months, the Capitol Hill consensus has been that a legislative limit on carbon emissions isn’t going anywhere in 2010 or beyond. New job-killing regulations and taxes just aren’t popular when unemployment is in double digits. Now the White House seems to agree on the plan’s political prospects. But there already were hints of this in the new Obama budget proposal. Now Obama’s budget last year assumed auctioning emissions permits would generate $646 billion in revenue over 10 years. Of that amount, a fifth would have gone toward funding clean energy research, and four fifths to funding a worker income tax credit.
The administration’s new budget proposal simply contains an accounting line labeled “allowance for climate policy” followed by, well, nothing. Not a single dime of revenue is assumed for the years 2011 through 2020. The line item looks to be nothing more than a placeholder to keep hope alive for greener Democratic voters.
The near-term impact is that the worker tax credit won’t be renewed after 2011. But longer-term, the proposal’s failure would stymie administration efforts to get closer to balancing the federal budget.
Internal White House estimates predicted cap-and-trade auctions might generate two or three times as much revenue as forecast in last year’s budget, or up to $1.9 trillion. By contrast, proposed tax hikes on upper-income Americans would raise $678 billion. The extra money from cap-and-trade could have taken a big bite out of the $8.5 trillion 10-year deficit projected in the latest budget — just the kind of broad-based, if politically stealthy, tax that Obama’s economic advisers think is necessary to balance the books.
The administration’s healthcare plan was supposed to knock another $132 billion off the 10-year deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office. With that on the back burner too, Democrat deficit hawks are left hoping Obama’s proposed fiscal commission can somehow create a menu of spending cuts and tax increases that could actually win congressional approval in 2011. Sadly for Obama, that’s about as likely as that “cap-and-trade thing” passing.