Man-at-the-pump angst is harming President Obama politically almost as much as gas prices surging toward $4 are hurting the middle class economically, which explains the energy panic that Washington began in earnest this week. The 2011 debate isn't likely to be any more instructive than its 2000, 2005, 2006 or 2008 vintages, but maybe this time politicians can keep things in the general vicinity of planet earth.
They're off to a lousy start. Mr. Obama usually begins his gas price narrative, now a campaign trail staple, by explaining that there aren't easy solutions. That's true—there's not a lot the political class can do to change gas prices in the short run—but then the President goes on to mention that there happens to be one easy solution: raising taxes on the oil and gas industry. This is also his stock answer on the budget deficit, world hunger and everything else.
In a letter to Congressional leaders Tuesday, Mr. Obama called for repealing some $4 billion a year in "subsidies" in the tax code, and even Speaker John Boehner chimed in that oil companies "ought to be paying their fair share." No doubt the reporting of first-quarter profits this week will be a demagogic moment, but really? The junk economic theory is that increasing the U.S. costs of investor-owned oil producers—which together hold a mere 6% of world reserves—is supposed to lower the price of a global commodity.
Oh, and Mr. Obama wants to devote the proceeds to even more spending on "clean energy." The problem here is that some renewables (ethanol) increase the cost of driving, while the others (wind, solar) are irrelevant in transportation. We trust anyone not recharging his federally subsidized $109,000 electric sportscar at his personal windmill is blinking in amazement.
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