Today’s Courier Herald Column:
The House yesterday passed its version of a bill to extend the current payroll tax cut, which has reduced American workers rate of payroll withholding taxes by 2% over the past year. President Obama had proposed increasing the cut for one year and paying for it by increasing taxes on “millionaires and billionaires” over ten years.
It should be noted that both sides seem to keep score these days by counting tax cuts on an annual basis, but counting revenues from tax increases or spending cuts over 10 years. Otherwise, the clear effect of increasing the deficit that both have presumably spent the past year trying to reduce would be obvious. In the spirit of the holidays, it wouldn’t be nice to dwell on double talk coming from Washington, so we’ll just move along. Congress hopes you will too.
In a battle over who gives us more of our tax money back while continuing to borrow more money to finance the government these same folks give us, Republicans have added a litany of “Christmas tree” items from their policy wish list in order to start negotiations with Democrats. We can now expect the argument over how many of these items will be accepted up until Christmas Eve, when passing the tax rates expected to be implemented one week later has become a holiday tradition.
The bill which passed the House on Tuesday contains $180 Billion in spending cuts and closures of tax “loopholes”, including repealing parts of health care reform and freezing the pay of members of Congress.
While many of those provisions will be greeted by Democrats with indifference to irritation, the gauntlet thrown down by Republicans will be focused on two primary areas: forcing a legislative stay on the EPA’s Boiler MCAT regulations and forcing a decision on the Canada to Texas Keystone pipeline. The Boiler MCAT regulations are forcing electric generating companies to decommission many coal powered generating plants over the next couple of years as the cost of upgrading to meet the standards is cost prohibitive. Georgia Power has announced it will idle three plants, with another company abandoning its plans to build a coal powered plant in South Georgia.
Most central to the debate will be the Keystone pipeline. With new exploration efforts from the Dakotas northward well into Canada, oil from the region needs a direct path to the refineries on the gulf coast so that these resources can be used domestically. Given that the payroll tax cut is promoted as a “jobs bill” by Democrats despite the lack of job creation during its first year in effect, Republicans are begging the White House to veto a project that would create 20,000 direct jobs and an estimated 120,000 indirect ones.
The effects of the oil boom are clear when looking at North Dakota’s current economic statistics. The state enjoys a 3.5% unemployment rate and has a one billion dollar budget surplus. Minimum wage laws are irrelevant, as fast food restaurants are advertising for workers at as much as $15 per hour. Housing is in short supply that workers in the oil region have taken to sleeping in their trucks in Wal Mart parking lots. North Dakota needs to become the poster child for job creation. A direct relationship must be drawn to increasing domestic drilling efforts.
The bigger energy debate will not be solved during a two week sprint designed to kick America’s fiscal policy can down the road in order to leave town during Christmas. It can and should become an integral part of the 2012 Presidential and Congressional campaigns.
America currently gets only one third of its oil from domestic resources, with another third coming from neighbors Canada and Mexico. The remaining third is sent to foreign countries, many of which wish us direct harm. Energy Independence has been a stated goal of every President since Nixon, but little direct or successful action has been effectively implemented.
The Keystone pipeline would be a good first move in the direction of shifting oil supplies from OPEC nations to a stable North American supply. Additional drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Southern Atlantic basin, and even off the coast of California must be considered. In exchange, Republicans should offer up restrictions on the amount of OPEC oil that can be imported as either oil or refined products.
Using our own resources, and employing Americans to extract them, is among the best options open to turning on the spigots of job production. Keystone represents the first move to connect these two in the public’s mind. Republicans must continue to drill this point home over the months ahead.