Baby pictures coming soon. I promise. I just have to download them first.
A little while ago David Ignatius asked whether the presidential candidates could be honest about the issues for a change. Mike answered no. I think I have Exhibit A that Mike's right.
I just read about this idea Clinton and McCain have about suspending the federal gas tax for the summer. Apparently they think this is a good idea. Let's take a look at the facts here...
1) We have a huge federal budget deficit.
2) Increasing demand, especially from China and India but also here at home, is driving the price of gas up.
3) Lower tax revenues make the budget deficit worse.
4) Higher gas prices will encourage people to conserve, thus limiting demand and slowing the rise of gas prices.
5) There's a little bit of a budget deficit in Washington right now.
6) The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents - about 6% of the cost of a tank of gas. Not much for the consumer, but a lot for the feds once you add it all together.
7) Did I mention the HUGE FRIGGIN' BUDGET DEFICIT?
Well, that settles it. Seems like what we ought to be doing is trying to control our demand for gasoline, which should put a natural downward pressure on prices (not to mention help out with that whole global warming thing). Ah, but there are two little facts I forgot to consider...
1) It's an election year.
2) People vote for politicians when they pander, no matter how dumb the pandering policy.
And there you have it. Empty electoral politics > sensible solutions to one of our most important issues. Kudos to Sen. Obama for not signing on to this nonsense. Given that Obama and Clinton are, like, exactly the same on every other issue, I think I just made up my mind about who I'm voting for on May 6.
Here's what I think should be done:
1) Raise fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. This has been done, but needs to be done more. Ignore Detroit's whining - it's clearly possible.
2) Raise the gas tax substantially. (Note: this might need to come with an increase in the EITC, since this will probably hit rural poor people hard. Either way, the amount of revenue coming in from the gas tax hike should be higher than the amount of revenue paid out by the new EITC. That will leave funds for us to...)
3) Invest the revenue from that into programs that encourage conservation, such as mass transit. Help out with the research on more fuel-efficient cars if need be.
4) On the local level, encourage development that places residential and commercial sites near one another and near job centers. There are a number of ways to do this - zoning laws, help with the funding, impact fees for far-flung development, etc.
This should decrease demand somewhat, creating a moderating pressure on gas prices. Note that I don't support biofuel subsidies. The main reason for this is that biofuel subsidies are part of what's driving the global food price crisis, and any energy policy that creates famine in other countries is no kind of policy at all. (In fact, Obama supports continued ethanol subsidies while, as far as I can tell, Clinton and McCain don't... maybe I don't know who I'm voting for next week after all.) Biofuels also spend about as much energy to make as they would save. The sugar-based stuff from Brazil might be a solution, but I think that still might cause the food-price explosion. We should fund research on getting fuels from waste products (we have plenty of that lying around), but subsidizing production just seems like a bad idea to me.
But good luck finding a politician who will say that stuff, especially #2.
A final note to the American people: you have to pay for your programs. If you want lower taxes, you can't have that shiny new road. If you want that shiny new road, you have to raise taxes. It's amazing how many people don't understand this.
UPDATE: Tom Friedman agrees, although he states his case a little bit more intelligently (and just as angrily... I love it when op-ed columnists get pissed). One tidbit I didn't know: Congress is having trouble renewing the solar/wind production tax credits that are set to expire at the end of December. This despite the fact that oil producers got their tax credits. I think these will still get through (whether or not production tax credits are a good thing is another debate), it being an election year and all, but seriously... credits for oil/gas and not for renewables? If we're giving out tax credits, I think most of us would agree that those credits should go to the solar/wind/geothermal/tidal/whatever people rather than the fossils. So how did the more controversial credit get through while the least controversial credit languishes in committee somewhere?