If the first Democratic debates were any indication, President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Milley warns of 'Sputnik moment' for China WSJ publishes letter from Trump continuing to allege voter fraud in PA Oath Keeper who was at Capitol on Jan. 6 runs for New Jersey State Assembly MORE and Republicans in Congress should get ready to answer a lot of questions on climate change in 2020. The percentage of moderator questions focused on the climate was four times higher than it was in the 2016 presidential debates and will likely increase.
And Democratic candidates swung for the fences with every answer. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Democrats prepare to grill oil execs Manchin dampens progressive hopes for billionaires tax Merkley, Warren and Markey sound alarm over 'dirty' hydrogen provision in climate deal MORE (Mass.), Cory BookerCory BookerAfter 35 years, Congress should finally end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine Reforming marijuana laws before the holidays: A three-pronged approach Black Caucus pushes for priorities in final deal MORE (N.J.), and Former HUD Secretary Julian CastroJulian CastroJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Biden calls on Congress to extend eviction ban with days until expiration Cruz trolled on Twitter for slamming Democrats who fled Texas MORE all called climate change the greatest geopolitical threat to America. Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeGOP official who challenged Trump election claims to get top DHS position DeSantis eyes ,000 bonus for unvaccinated police to relocate to Florida Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Boosters take a big step forward MORE named it “the organizing principle to mobilize the United States.”
A new poll released last week from Reuters/Ipsos shows that this isn’t just food for the Democratic base. Nearly 70 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, say they want the United States to take “aggressive” action to combat climate change.
That would seem to spell trouble for Republicans—until you look a little deeper at the same poll. It found that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to climate solutions that would that would result in higher taxes, which effectively means every Democratic proposal.
Plans recently offered by Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to meet House Dems before Europe trip: report 21 House Democrats call for removing IRS bank reporting proposal from spending bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Vulnerable House Dems push drug pricing plan MORE, Warren, O’Rourke, and Inslee call for anywhere from $1.7 to $3 trillion in federal spending over the next decade, plus regulations and subsidies aimed at coercing trillions more in private sector spending. On top of that, most profess to support the Green New Deal—or the “Green dream,” as House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden to meet House Dems before Europe trip: report On The Money — Will the billionaire tax survive Joe Manchin? Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Democrats prepare to grill oil execs MORE (D-Calif.) put it—which would cost trillions of dollars.
Raising taxes on Wall Street or the rich will not cover these bills. Every American would be asked to pay, one way or another.
Unrealistic and politically hazardous though these plans may be, Republicans in 2020 can’t simply bank on throwing stones at Democratic ideas. They need an effective, market-based alternative. Their best bet is a revenue-neutral tax on carbon pollution.
Broadly speaking, there are three approaches lawmakers can take to shift behavior among consumers and producers. The first two are favored by the left and largely inefficient, requiring people or businesses to change (regulations) or paying them to change (subsidies). The revenue-neutral carbon tax leverages the third option: price the unwanted behavior (through a tax) to create a market incentive for behavior to change.
A price on carbon would motivate companies to reduce CO2 emissions and hasten their adoption of alternative fuels. And the key here is that it would be revenue-neutral, meaning the government would effectively give the money it earns from the carbon tax back to the American people by cutting other taxes.
Alternatively, regulations targeting carbon emissions—whether directly (like the Clean Power Plan) or indirectly (like Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards)—limit market choices and create hidden costs. Subsidies aren’t any better: they get paid straight out of the general fund of the Treasury (our tax dollars) and put Washington bureaucrats in charge of picking winners and losers, incentivizing lobbying and suppressing free-market innovation.
This is why a carbon tax is so heavily favored by economists, including Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia University’s graduate school of business and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, who said that “it is clearly the most efficient way to deal with the problem.”
A revenue-neutral carbon tax checks every box for Republicans: it’s smart economically, environmentally and politically.
Democrats are already showing their climate change hand in the 2020 cycle. Not only are the candidates dreaming the green dream, but their base is calling for the political and media establishment to make climate change a marquee issue.
Last Wednesday, the night of the first debate, progressive activists camped out in front of DNC headquarters to demand an entire debate exclusively on the issue of climate change. Afterward, despite the relative showering of questions on the climate change, multiple left-leaning news outlets, from Vox to Media Matters, ran pieces criticizing the moderators for not asking more.
President Trump and Republicans running for Congress should brace themselves for the storm of questions on climate change in the 2020 cycle. Denying the problem or denigrating the left’s ideas will not cut it for the 70 percent of voters who demand aggressive action. A revenue-neutral carbon tax would not only satisfy, it would beat every Democratic idea.
Alex Flint is executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions