Last month, a group of former Republican Party heavyweights — conservatives to their cores — unveiled a sensible plan to address climate change through a refundable tax on carbon. The plan landed in official Washington with a barely audible thud.
The version of the Republican Party that today runs the White House and Congress is different from the fact-based party that embraced the likes of James A. Baker III, George P. Shultz, Martin Feldstein and Henry Paulson during the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and both Bush administrations. Such pragmatists would not be welcome in President Donald Trump’s administration.
Their Climate Leadership Council acknowledges two realities that are heresies to Trump and most Republicans in Congress: Man-made climate change is a real and growing threat, and tax policy is the best way to address it. Baker and company are willing to bash the Obama administration’s climate policies but not without offering what they think are better and workable alternatives. Government by pragmatists, in other words.
A carbon tax is not a new idea. It is grounded in conservative advocacy for consumption taxes instead of taxes on wealth and aversion to business regulation, such as President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Such a tax allows predictability for business and promotes economic growth.
A $40-a-ton carbon tax, levied on producers, would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. The Climate Leadership Council plan would raise between $200 billion and $300 billion a year and be rebated to offset the cost of the tax; a household of four would get a $2,000 “carbon dividend.”
The old-school Republicans at the Climate Leadership Council are hoping for better. They wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “Republicans are in charge of both Congress and the White House. If they do nothing other than reverse regulations from the Obama administration, they will squander the opportunity to show the full power of the conservative canon, and its core principles of free markets, limited government, and stewardship.”