Fourteen years after the Clinton health care debacle, Americans may finally be ready to accept and adopt universal health care, Paul Krugman argued in his New York Times column last Friday, Sept. 21.
There was another political debacle in 1993, over the Clinton btu tax, a levy on all forms of energy, with a surcharge on gasoline and other petroleum products. The tax’s ignominious defeat in favor of a watered-down version has helped poison the well for taxing carbon and/or gasoline ever since. Here we juxtapose Krugman’s actual column on health care with an imagined column we’d like to see him write on "climate care" later this year or next. Our hypothetical version uses Sen. Clinton as a foil only because she is so used in Krugman’s piece.
|Health Care Hopes
By PAUL KRUGMAN
The New York Times, Sept. 21, 2007
|Climate Care Hopes
By the CARBON TAX CENTER
The New York Times, March 21, 2008??
|All the evidence suggests that it has finally become politically possible to give Americans what citizens of every other advanced nation already have: guaranteed health insurance. The economics of universal health care are sound, and polls show strong public support for guaranteed care. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.||All the evidence suggests that it is becoming politically possible to give Americans what citizens of every other advanced nation already have: a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The economics of a carbon tax whose revenues are returned to the public are sound, and polls show growing support. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.|
|Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that around.||Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that around.|
|True, one kind of fear seems, provisionally, to have been overcome: the timidity of Democratic politicians scarred by the failure of the original Clinton health plan.||True, one kind of fear seems, provisionally, to have been overcome: the timidity of Democratic politicians scarred by the failure of the original Clinton Btu tax in 1993.|
|To see how much things have changed, consider Hillary Clinton’s evolution. Just 15 months ago, The New York Times reported that "her plans to expand coverage are tempered and incremental," and that "she continues to shy from the ultimate challenge: describing what a comprehensive Democratic health care plan would look like."||To see how much things have changed, consider Hillary Clinton’s evolution. Just 15 months ago, the famously cautious Senator parried questions about taxing carbon by citing her support for the less controversial (but less effective and equitable) carbon cap-and-trade route for putting a price on carbon emissions.|
|Indeed, when she was asked how costs might be controlled, she demurred: "It depends on what kind of system you’re devising. And that’s still not at all clear to me, what the body politic will bear."||Indeed, nothing in Clinton’s history of defending entitlements suggested that she would ever tell Americans that cheap fossil fuels stood in the way of both climate protection and energy security.|
|But that was then.||But that was then.|
|John Edwards broke the issue of health care reform open in February, when he proposed a smart and serious plan for universal health insurance — and bravely announced his willingness to pay for the plan by letting some of the Bush tax cuts expire. Suddenly, universal health care went from being a distant progressive dream to something you could actually envision happening in the next administration.||Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd broke the issue of taxing carbon open in 2006, when he made a "corporate carbon tax" a centerpiece of his own presidential bid. Campaigning in Iowa, Dodd forthrightly stated, "As long as it’s cheaper to use fossil fuels, we’re not going to move to these alternative technologies and fuels," It took time, but more quickly than many thought possible, the American people came to agree.|
|Senator Clinton delayed a long time before coming out with her own plan — a delay that created a lot of anxiety among health care reformers, and may, as I’ll explain in a minute, be a bad omen for the future. Still, this week she did deliver a plan, and it’s as strong as the Edwards plan — because unless you get deep into the fine print, the Clinton plan basically is the Edwards plan.||Sen. Clinton delayed a long time before coming out with her own carbon tax — a delay that created anxiety among climate campaigners. Behind the scenes, however, Clinton’s policy wonks were ironing out crucial details, including protecting American families without diluting the price incentives that bring about carbon reductions. The plan she delivered this week is as strong as the 2007 Dodd plan — maybe stronger.|
|That’s not a criticism; it’s much more important that a politician get health care right than that he or she score points for originality. Senator Clinton may be politically cautious, but she does understand health care economics and she knows a good thing when she sees it.||That’s not a criticism; it’s much more important that a politician get climate care right than that he or she score points for originality. Senator Clinton may be politically cautious, but she does understand climate care economics and she knows a good thing when she sees it.|
|The Edwards and Clinton plans as well as the slightly weaker but similar Obama plan achieve universal-or-near-universal coverage through a well-thought-out combination of insurance regulation, subsidies and public-private competition. These plans may disappoint advocates of a cleaner, simpler single-payer system. But it’s hard to see how Medicare for all could get through Congress any time in the near future, whereas Edwards-type plans offer a reasonable second best that you can actually envision being enacted by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Democratic president just two years from now.||The Dodd and Clinton plans as well as the similar Obama plan achieve climate-care coverage through a phased-in tax on the carbon content of coal, oil and natural gas. These plans may disappoint advocates of a new Manhattan Project who want massive government spending on renewable solar and wind plants, hybrid cars and mass transit. But these politically popular programs, Clinton discovered, actually carry less carbon-reducing bang for the same investment buck. Only taxing-up the price of fossil fuels can create the clear, rapid, across-the-board incentives needed to propel a massive shift to clean alternatives.|
|To get there, however, would require overcoming a lot more fear.||To get there, however, required overcoming a lot more fear.|
|There won’t be a serious Republican alternative. The health care plans of the leading Republican candidates, such as they are, are the same old, same old: they principally rely on tax breaks that go mainly to the well-off, but will supposedly conjure up the magic of the market. As Ezra Klein of The American Prospect cruelly but accurately puts it: "The Republican vision is for a world in which the sick and dying get to deduct some of the cost of health insurance that they don’t have — and can’t get — on their taxes."||The genius in Sen. Clinton’s climate-care plan was to insist that the carbon tax revenues be rebated. Clinton dusted off the Alaska Permanent Fund model, which divvies up North Slope oil revenues equally among the state’s residents. She showed how that approach makes a carbon tax progressive, since each income bracket uses more energy (and emits more carbon) than lower groups on the ladder. "Revenue-neutral" proved more potent politically than both "no new taxes" and a Manhattan Project for energy.|
|But the G.O.P. nominee, whoever he is, won’t be trying to persuade the public of the merits of his own plan. Instead, he’ll try to scare the dwindling fraction of Americans who still have good health insurance by claiming that the Democrats will take it away.||But the G.O.P. nominee, whoever he is, probably won’t be trying to persuade the public of the merits of his own plan. Instead, he’ll try to scare Americans by repeating the word "tax" over and over and ignoring the revenue-neutrality built into the Democrats’ carbon tax.|
|The smear-and-fear campaign has already started. The Democratic plans all bear a strong resemblance to the health care plan that Mitt Romney signed into law as governor of Massachusetts, differing mainly in offering Americans additional choices. But that didn’t stop Mr. Romney from denouncing the Clinton plan as "European-style socialized medicine." And Fred Thompson claims that the Clinton plan denies choice — which it actually offers in abundance — and relies on "punishment" instead.||The smear-and-fear campaign has already started. The Clinton carbon tax bears a strong resemblance to the revenue-neutral carbon tax championed by Romney adviser and former Bush (43) Administration chief-economist Greg Mankiw. Indeed, a carbon tax is supported by economists and opinion leaders across the political spectrum, from the American Enterprise Institute to Friends of the Earth. But that didn’t stop Mr. Romney from denouncing the Clinton plan as "just one more Democratic tax."|
|These attacks probably won’t be effective enough to prevent a Democrat from winning next year. But that won’t be the end of the story: even if the Democrats take the White House and expand their Congressional majorities, the insurance and drug lobbies will try to bully them into backing down on their campaign promises.||These attacks probably won’t be effective enough to prevent a Democrat from winning this year. But that won’t be the end of the story: even if the Democrats take the White House and expand their Congressional majorities, the coal and utility lobbies will try to bully them into backing down on their campaign promises.|
|That’s why the long delay before Senator Clinton announced her health care plan made supporters of universal care, myself included, so nervous — a nervousness that is not completely assuaged by the fact that she finally did deliver. It’s good to know that whoever gets the Democratic nomination will run on a very good health care plan. What remains is the question of whether he or she will have the determination to turn that plan into reality.||That’s why the long delay before Senator Clinton announced her climate care plan made supporters of a carbon tax, ourselves included, so nervous — a nervousness that is not completely assuaged by the fact that she finally did deliver. It’s good to know that whoever gets the Democratic nomination will run on a very good climate care plan. What remains is the question of whether he or she will have the determination to turn that plan into reality.|
Epilogue: Sen. Clinton made the rounds of the Sunday morning political talk shows following her health plan rollout. Carbon tax advocates shouldn’t hold our breath till Rep. Dingell gets invited to discuss his innovative "hybrid" carbon tax. Let’s organize instead.