Jimmy Carter was right

For 40 years, America’s energy policy has been a bipartisan disaster. Since the early 1970s America’s dependence on foreign oil has threatened our economy, security and national honor as we corrupted our foreign policy to satisfy our thirst for oil.

Nixon failed. Ford failed. Reagan failed. George H.W. Bush failed. Clinton failed. George W. Bush failed. Compared to the magnitude of the problem, Obama so far has failed. Democrats failed. Republicans failed. The House failed. The Senate failed.

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The one national leader who understood was a prophet without honor in a nation addicted to oil: President Jimmy Carter.

When Carter said the energy crisis is the moral equivalent of war, he was absolutely right. Carter could have been a more perfect commander in the politics of passing an energy program. Yet the far larger fault lies with the generals, captains and foot soldiers in a war that demanded our support, a war we have never fought, a war we continue to lose today.

Perhaps with the price of oil rising to the skies again, our economic recovery threatened by the punishing price of gasoline, our decadent four-decade program of foreign policy threatened by instability in despotic oil-producing regimes and fears of nuclear meltdown arriving again, this could be President Obama’s moment.

In 2008 I wrote a column proposing a JFK moon-shot for the fuel-efficient car. I repeat that proposal here, adding an idea first suggested by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Let’s create the greatest private incentives in economic history to bring back the drive of invention, innovation and progress and renew “Made in America” to world energy, environmental and technology leadership.

I propose that a company that sells at least 250,000 American-made cars that achieve 100 miles per gallon within five years be granted a waiver of all corporate taxes for that year; that the inventor of that car be granted a $1 billion cash bounty from the federal government, payable upon the sale of those 250,000 cars; that investors in that company receive a complete capital gains tax holiday for stock they own in that company held for at least two years; and that all workers in that company receive a holiday of all payroll taxes for one year.

My proposal only goes into effect if the 100 mpg cars are sold in large numbers within the five-year window. It would create powerful incentives and rewards for inventors, management, corporate boards, investors and employees to create and sell the cars that would bring revolutionary energy savings for the world and a jobs wave for Americans.

Let’s fully upgrade the technology at the patent office and hire every employee necessary to fast-track patent approval for all major innovations, especially energy. It is ridiculous for the agency tasked to advance innovation to be a laggard in the world economy.

Let’s have a televised Davos-like summit in Washington to bring together inventors, engineers, entrepreneurs, CEOs, venture capitalists, private equity managers, labor leaders and consumer groups to develop investment, tax and spending policies to win the moral equivalent of war that we must wage and win together.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.