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“The Overestimation Of The Power Of Coal”: The Politics Of Coal–And Other Mythic Government-Sensitive Industries

At TNR, Alec MacGillis has a useful analysis of the declining power of the coal industry in what we are used to calling Coal Country, in states ranging from Virginia to Illinois (and extending to very different coal-producing states out west), but centered in West Virginia and Kentucky, where we are led to believe the Obama administration’s new utility regulations are going to be political death for Democrats. The simple facts are that not that many people work in or are dependent on coal mines anymore:

Take Kentucky, the focus of much of the punditry, given the close race between Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. Coal-mining employment in the Bluegrass State has plunged by more than half in the past three decades, from 38,000 in 1983 to under 17,000 in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. (Nationally, there are 78,000 people employed in coal mining—well less than half as many as are employed in oil and gas extraction, and not much more than the number of people employed in logging.) To put that in perspective: the auto manufacturing industry in Kentucky employs three times as many people as the coal industry does today. When is the last time you heard pundits making grand predictions about how new auto-industry regulations would affect Kentucky “Car Country”?

MacGillis points out that the overestimation of the Power of Coal was one of the strategic mistakes made by the 2012 Romney campaign, which thought hyperventilation over the “War on Coal” might tip Virginia and Ohio into its column (and to be fair, the Obama campaign spent a lot of time promoting the largely illusory future of “clean coal”).

But Alec also acknowledges that the mythic significance of coal outstrips its actual importance to the economies of Coal Country:

[T]here’s no question coal’s grip on politics in Kentucky extends beyond actual employment figures—it is part of the state’s cultural identity, part of the holy trinity that also includes horses and bourbon. That explains why, as the Times notes, a Republican congressional candidate recently savaged his opponent for being anti-coal in a Kentucky district that has not a single coal-mining job in it.

I would add that expectations of politicians to support policies friendly to mythic industries tend to be very strong, though not as much as when liberal environmentalism and conservative hostility to government subsidies began to cut into purely parochial attitudes. I recall that way back in 1972, a big issue in the race that eventually lifted Sam Nunn to the Senate from Georgia was incumbent David Gambrell’s failure to trade a vote for a Boeing SST project in exchange for Washington State support for Lockheed’s C-5 airlift project, which really only directly affected a relatively small portion of Georgia but was integral to its perceived future as a military-industrial superpower. More recently, one of America’s great political rituals has been the requirement that presidential candidates who want to compete in the Iowa Caucuses pledge to support the continuation of ethanol subsidies (in the 2000 cycle, this was George W. Bush’s first action after formally announcing his candidacy), and long-standing hostility to ethanol kept John McCain from seriously contesting Iowa in both 2000 and 2008).

With coal, of course, the normal ideological proclivities of Democrats and Republicans have made support for and opposition to carbon emissions regulations largely a no-brainer. And that might well be true if Coal Country really was a big economic bloc, or if hardly any coal was being mined or burned at all.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Coal Industry | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taxpayer Protection Pledge And The Grover Norquist Ethanol Trap

Tom Coburn has sprung a plan to force the Senate to vote on the ethanol subsidy:

Sen. Tom Coburn has pulled the trigger and is forcing a long-sought vote on an amendment repealing billions in annual tax incentives for ethanol.

The Senate will vote Tuesday afternoon on Coburn’s motion limiting debate on his amendment that would do away with the 45 cent blender tax credit for ethanol — worth about $6 billion this year — and the 54 cent tariff on imported ethanol.

Wait, don’t go to sleep, there’s something going on here. The press coverage doesn’t say so, but this is actually not about ethanol. It’s about Republican anti-tax dogma.

I wrote about this a few months ago, but for those readers who haven’t committed my blog to memory — shame on you! —  I’ll refresh. Nearly all Republicans have signed a Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which is enforced by Grover Norquist. The pledge forbids the signer from approving any increase in tax revenue under any circumstances whatsoever.

Coburn and a handful of Republicans are trying to get around this pledge. Their tactic is to negotiate revenue increases that take the form of closing loopholes and exemptions rather than raising rates. This would clearly violate the Pledge. But Coburn is trying to expose the silliness of the Pledge. He’s holding a vote on eliminating the ethanol subsidy. Now, conservatives oppose the ethanol subsidy. But since the subsidy is a tax credit, then eliminating it is a tax increase, and forbidden by the Pledge.

So Coburn’s goal here is to drive a wedge between conservative doctrine and Norquist’s anti-tax dogma. If Norquist opposes a vote against ethanol, he reveals how absurd his pledge actually is. If he supports it, then he proves that it shouldn’t be taken literally. Either way, it creates a talking point that Republicans could use to support revenue increases. And since the GOP’s theological opposition to revenue increases has been driving budget policy for more than two decades, this is a pretty important development.


By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, June 10, 2011

June 10, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Energy, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Tax Credits, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Straight-Talking, Truth-Telling Machine?: Tim Pawlenty’s Version Of The “Truth”

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty formally kicked off his Republican presidential campaign yesterday, and after struggling to come up with a rationale for his candidacy, he’s apparently settled on a theme. Pawlenty, we’re told, will be a straight-talking, truth-telling machine.

As rationales go, I suppose this isn’t bad. Indeed, Pawlenty took steps to back this up, telling Iowans he wants a gradual phasing out of federal ethanol subsidies, and noting that he’s headed to Florida to endorse overhauling Medicare and Social Security. Pawlenty has spent many years saying the exact opposite, but why quibble? This is the new Pawlenty, speaking truth to power, and adopting the mantle of the last honest man in American politics — or so we’re supposed to believe.

But for a man who used the word “truth” 16 times in his campaign kick-off speech, Pawlenty is already undercutting his message with all kinds of falsehoods.

An hour after his official launch, Pawlenty talked to Rush Limbaugh, who noted in 2006 that Pawlenty said that “the era of small government is over” and that “government has to be more proactive, more aggressive.” Pawlenty responded that the newspaper article that published those remarks was wrong; the paper ran a correction; and that he was only quoting someone else.

Dana Milbank looked into this and discovered that Pawlenty “had taken some liberties with the facts.”

The article is all about Pawlenty’s efforts as governor to take on drug and oil companies and other practitioners of “excessive corporate power.” It includes his boast that many ideological Republicans “don’t even talk to me anymore” because of his support for things such as the minimum wage.

“The era of small government is over,” Pawlenty told the newspaper. “I’m a market person, but there are certain circumstances where you’ve got to have government put up the guardrails or bust up entrenched interests before they become too powerful…. Government has to be more proactive, more aggressive.”

The newspaper did issue a “clarification,” but only to say that Pawlenty’s quote about small government was “in reference to a point” made by the conservative writer David Brooks — one that Pawlenty, from his other comments, obviously agreed with.

Of course he did. In 2006, Pawlenty wasn’t well liked by the far-right, as he defended big government, endorsed cap-and-trade, wanted to reimport prescription medication from Canada, and wanted officials to be more effective and aggressive in fighting the oil industry.

Everything he told Limbaugh yesterday, just like the new persona he’s struggling to adopt, just isn’t true.

And really, that’s just scratching the surface. Wonk Room ran a fact-check piece yesterday, noting seven obvious lies Pawlenty told yesterday, on issues ranging from health care on the nation’s finances. Similarly , the AP ran a similar piece, highlighting several more of the candidate’s falsehoods from yesterday.

Pawlenty needs to realize that those who base their entire message on offering candor and uncomfortable truths face an even tougher burden — they’re inviting even tougher scrutiny. By lying repeatedly on his first day as a national candidate, Pawlenty is off to an ignominious start.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly, Political Animal, May 24, 2011

May 24, 2011 Posted by | Big Government, Conservatives, Corporations, Elections, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Medicare, Politics, Republicans, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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