Budget Debate Continues

Congress is in recess, but the debate over President Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget continues, as congressional staffers work behind closed doors to reconcile the Senate — and House — passed budgets.

These negotiations need to be monitored, because recent history (remember the AIG bonus language in the stimulus?) suggests non-public negotiations work against the American taxpayer. Conservative senators fought hard to protect Americans from many of the destructive policy initiatives in the president’s budget, but without a transparent conference committee, many of those victories will probably be fleeting.

One major difference is the reconciliation language in the House budget. The intent of reconciliation is to help the Senate pass politically unpopular deficit reduction measures. However, the House included the language to enable the nationalization of the college loan industry, to advance the first stage of government-run health care and President Obama’s energy tax. In a letter to colleagues, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), said, “As one of the authors of the reconciliation process, I can tell you that the ironclad parliamentary procedures it authorizes were never intended for this purpose. Reconciliation was intended to adjust revenue and spending levels in order to reduce deficits.”

National Energy Tax Setback

Because of the complex nature of reconciliation, it could have been used to fast track a national energy tax, commonly called cap-and-trade. Fortunately, every Republican and 26 Democrats voted to adopt an amendment by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) that prohibits the use of reconciliation to pass a national energy tax. The Senate adopted other amendments that would limit the economic damage caused by such a tax.

Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) amendment will protect the six million workers in the oil and natural gas industry. Another, by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), would prevent any tax increases associated with climate change legislation. Two others, offered by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.), would prevent the implementation of a national energy tax if it would raise prices for consumers or cause jobs to be lost. Finally, an amendment by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) prevents the regulation of livestock production in the name of climate change.

Tax Increases Unpopular

The Senate rebuked several core elements of President Obama’s tax agenda, which is good news for married couples, small businesses, charities and anyone who finds the death tax offensive. Because the Senate adopted an amendment by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Obama’s proposed tax increases, which contain severe marriage penalties, will now be subject to a new procedural hurdle in the Senate.

The Senate also adopted amendments by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to protect small businesses from tax increases and Sen. Thune to protect charitable donations from taxation. Finally, the Senate adopted an amendment by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) that would permanently reform the death tax, raising the threshold to $5 million per individual and $10 million per couple and lowering the tax rate to 35% rate. A better approach would have been to scrap the death tax all together, but Lincoln’s amendment is a step in the right direction.

Protecting Conservative Victories

Inserting conservative priorities into an otherwise destructive budget may be a fleeting victory though, as Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama will try to eviscerate those protections during closed-door conference negotiations. The Senate’s chief negotiator will be none other than Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) who said, “I thank my colleague for his confidence in my ability to influence the outcome of the conference committee. I don’t think it may extend as far as he may wish or as far as I might wish.” In other words, without transparency, conservative victories may be short-lived.

“New” Science

During his presidential campaign and in his inaugural address, President Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place.” In the 1970’s, scientists consider pumping extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to prevent global cooling. Now, the Associated Press reports, presidential science adviser Josh Holdren is claiming that a warming-induced catastrophe is imminent.

Holdren says that climate geo-engineering, such as polluting the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun’s ray, is an option “we might get desperate enough” to use. But if he believes the sun is heating the earth, why would he want to tax carbon emissions? He did address the CO2 issue by suggesting artificial trees could be used to absorb it from our atmosphere. Rather than valuing actual scientific debate, it sounds like Holdren and the administration are basing their climate policies on the movie Soylent Green.