Trump Must Avoid ‘Read My Lips’-style Blunder on Carbon Tax

Is the White House considering a carbon tax as part of comprehensive tax reform? According to New York Times White House correspondent Glenn Thrush, Trump press secretary Sean Spicer said today that “There’s a robust debate” about a carbon tax going on inside the White House. That comment was confirmed in a tweet by BBC News North America correspondent James Cook.

Conservatives with access to Trump’s inner circle should quickly read, digest, and summarize “The Deeply Flawed Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax.” In that monograph, AEI economist Ben Zycher shreds the recent carbon tax plan put forward by a group of GOP Beltway veterans calling themselves the “Climate Leadership Council” (CLC).

For example, Zycher shows, based on an Environmental Protection Agency climate model, that a carbon tax starting at $40 per ton and escalating over time would produce no detectable climate benefits, even by century’s end.

The CLC plan is equally unserious as economic policy. The CLC proposes to redistribute the carbon tax revenues, estimated at $300 billion annually, in equal shares to every “family of four.” How could that possibly strengthen the economy? If random redistribution of $300 billion from millions of Peters to millions of Pauls is an economy builder, then a “share the wealth” scheme that confiscates and redistributes all income should work even better.   

Conservatives with friends in the White House should make two additional points. First, the whole political case for a “conservative carbon tax” assumed that Trump would get “slaughtered,” that Hillary Clinton would become president, and that we’d be stuck with Obama’s Climate Action Plan unless we offered the environmental lobby groups something they want in return. Yet Republican establishmentarians now want Trump to swap carbon regulations for carbon taxes as though he had lost the election!

Finally, someone should remind Trump that carbon-tax elder statesman and CLC leader James Baker is recycling the fatal advice he gave to President George H. W. Bush. Coached by the Baker brain trust, Bush repudiated his ‘read my lips, no new taxes’ campaign pledge, and struck a deal with House Ways and Means chairman Dan Rostenskowski (D-IL) to raise taxes. The economy tanked, the GOP base stayed home in the next election cycle, and Bush lost in 1992 despite what had been extremely high post-Gulf War approval ratings.