CNN political pundits Paul Begala (former advisor to Democratic President Bill Clinton) and Ari Fleischer, former advisor to Republican President George W. Bush, shared the keynote American Wind Energy Association Fall Symposium session and discussed the implications of the November 6 election for the wind industry.
The election was “the dog that didn’t bark,” Begala said. While other mature democracies are seeing rioting over elections during these hard times, “We got a clear mandate.” The Democrats gained seats despite the economy. Tea Party candidates were rejected. Though Republicans retained control of the House because of redistricting, Begala said, “More Americans voted for Democrats than for Republicans.”
“On election night, the Romney people really thought they won,” Fleischer said. “The Republicans hit their targets. But the Democrats hit their even higher targets. Something drove an upsurge in voter participation.”
Begala: Your industry should not present itself to Congress as a supplicant. They work for you. You create jobs and power homes and businesses in a way that doesn’t destroy the planet. And this is one of my favorite planets. Present yourselves as what you are: a great American industry.
Fleischer: The biggest threat to your industry is tax reform. In search of lower rates, they will look for loopholes. And a loophole is in the eye of the beholder. The likelihood is, given divided government, no changes will be made. But never take that for granted. Keep working both parties. Your biggest vulnerability will come from my party.
Begala: Every time we’ve created a lot of jobs, it came from a specific sector. In the '90s, it was IT and the biosciences. After September 11, it was national security. The president thinks this time they will come from renewable energy. Domestic jobs, high paying jobs, manufacturing jobs, green jobs. I think they can.
Fleischer: A congressman or senator listens to people who create jobs in their state or district. That is your most powerful voice. Who goes on the chopping block? The history of Washington is that most everything does get extended. But it is a bumpy ride. You have to show you are on your way to standing on your own, that this is a bridge, that it helps national security, that it helps the rest of the economy, that it is not something permanent. Particularly after Solyndra, you have to show them the economics are reasonable.
Begala: I’d rather have 100 Solyndras than one Koch brothers. Solyndra went under because the Chinese played unfair and undercut it, not because it was corrupt.
Fleischer: Your strongest arguments are going to be that wind is clean energy, made right here in the United States. For the country’s security, you want to have a diverse selection that can be turned up and down in response to the market, and renewables must have a level playing field to be part of that mix. The problem is how to define a level playing field. Every energy industry received some form of subsidy or tax provision. There is a government hand on every energy playing field.
Begala: If it was me, I would go to lawmakers, throw a quarter down and say, "That’s all I want. Twenty-five cents for every dollar you give the Koch brothers and Exxon" -- which are mature, developed industries. They don’t need any help. They are the most profitable companies on the planet and we are giving them four times the subsidies we give wind. That’s insane.
Fleischer: The bigger issue is the marketplace and commodities. That is the biggest obstacle to your industry. If the price of natural gas continues to drop, that will determine demand for your product, more than anything else. Free markets are still free markets, even with government involved.
In answering questions from the audience, both said the lame duck session could bring an extension of the PTC.
“Go see Spielberg’s Lincoln,” said Begala. “If you can abolish slavery during a lame-duck session, certainly you can do these things.”
“The fiscal cliff has to be settled before December 31,” Fleischer said. “And there ain’t nothing like a tax bill that’s about to pass for many little tax extenders provisions to get attached. That’s the way it has always been done.”
Begala said he was all for a carbon tax. Fleischer said Republicans might be for one except that such taxes rarely go to deficit reduction. “Usually the money goes to fund something else.”
Begala bemoaned the passing of the days when climate change was a bipartisan cause. “Republicans moved away,” he said. “Somehow it became antithetical to conservatism. I don’t get it.”
“There is settled agreement about the problem,” Fleischer responded. “But will the solution change global warming or just feed the government appetite for spending?”
At the end of the discussion, in answer to the question of who might run for President in 2016, Fleischer endorsed Vice President Joe Biden for the Democrats, saying it would be as much fun as this year’s Republican primary debates. Begala noted that Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio has already begun visiting Iowa.