Despite much cajoling and prodding from fellow conservatives, the party didn’t adopt a climate policy in the new tax bill. It’s clear that much of the sales pitch for a carbon tax that has been aimed at Republicans has fallen flat.
The Republican tax-reform bill, which passed Congress Wednesday, makes some big changes to the federal government. It repeals Obamacare’s health-insurance mandate, temporarily expands the child tax credit, and permanently cuts taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
What it doesn’t do: impose a new tax on carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping gas that warms the globe and acidifies the oceans.This might not come as a surprise, as only some GOP politicians accept that global warming — which a carbon tax is meant to slow — is real (sic). But passage of the tax bill will end a year of prodding, cajoling, and storytelling from leaders in both parties — including sitting senators and Reagan-administration alumni — that tried to force senior Republican leadership into considering some kind of plan to soften the blow of global warming.
As the GOP passes its largest legislative package in years, with no carbon price to be found, it’s clear that those rhetorical efforts have failed. Even as wildfires and hurricanes ransack the coasts, and record-breaking temperatures stack up, there’s still little appetite among the party’s leaders to address climate change through tax policy.By rejecting a carbon tax without proposing an alternative, Republicans may have relinquished their best chance to shape climate policy this decade, continuing to cede the issue to Democrats at a national level. […]
After Trump’s victory and inauguration, some of the Republican Party’s elder statesmen said it was time for a conservative climate policy.In February, a group of GOP-affiliated economists and former Reagan cabinet officials announced a plan to gut EPA regulations while imposing a a new tax of $40 per ton of carbon pollution. The proposal’s supporters included James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz, secretaries of state to Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. (In the interest of disclosure: Laurene Powell Jobs, a co-owner of The Atlantic, was also a founding supporter of the plan.)
“Crazy as it may sound, this is the perfect time to enact a sensible policy to address the dangerous threat of climate change,” wrote the economists Martin Feldstein and Gregory Mankiw in The New York Times in February. “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.”
Both men brought solid Republican bonafides: Feldstein spent three years as President Reagan’s chief economic adviser; Mankiw played the same role for George W. Bush. They warned that “a repeal-only climate strategy would prove quite unpopular,” citing polling that shows six out of 10 Americans are worried about global warming.Mitt Romney tweeted approvingly about the plan, its leaders had a press conference in D.C., and some of them even met with the White House economic adviser Gary Cohn—and that was about as far as it got.
Congressional Republicans never took up the proposal. President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement in June, and he revoked the bulk of President Obama’s climate regulations in October. Speaking by email on Tuesday, Feldstein did not sound contrite about the work he did to support the Republican carbon-tax plan. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it might be legislation,” he said.But the carbon tax’s failure didn’t cloud his view of the overall Republican tax bill. “On balance,” he told me, “I like it.” […]
“It’s clear that much of the sales pitch for a carbon tax that has been aimed at Republicans has fallen flat,” says Joseph Majkut, a geoscientist and the director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank that supports a carbon tax. He says it’s time to focus on “bring[ing] Republicans toward the mainstream on climate science” while still advocating for a hands-off carbon price.