I just finished a conference call on Obama's energy policy (more of which is apparently being rolled out today) with Virginia Congressman and House Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and McCain campaign spokesman Douglas Holtz-Eakin. Here's your summary of the call.
The chief theme pushed by Cantor and Holtz-Eakin is that Obama is at best weakly committed, and at worst outright opposed, to more domestic energy production. At all turns they brought the conversation back to this theme, which has clearly been a winning one for Republicans in general and the McCain campaign in particular. Rep. Cantor pointed out that Obama's recent statements of willingness to support domestic drilling "if that's what we have to do" is not leadership and conflicts with his own party's position in the House. The Q&A session was more involved and is discussed below the fold.Cantor & Holtz-Eakin took five questions, four from MSM sources and one from yours truly.
An AP reporter (Bob Lewis) asked about Rep. Cantor being on the VP shortlist and asked about his conversations with Sen. McCain on this point. Rep. Cantor pointedly responded that he was on the call to discuss energy policy and refused to comment. (For those of you reading tea leaves, while the McCain campaign was deploying Cantor, it was also sending Mitt Romney out on CNN and circulating transcripts of his appearance, so one should not get over-excited about the choices of surrogates; they have clearly decided to make maximum use of the people on the short list whenever possible).
A reporter from USA Today (David Jackson) asked about the Democrats' "use it or lose it" proposal to embargo new drilling rights until oil companies use the leases they have already purchased from the federal government. Holtz-Eakin responded that Sen. McCain supports 'use it or lose it' because it is already current law, in the sense that under current law an unused lease reverts to the government after five years. (This isn't exactly the same as what the Democrats are proposing, but his point is that we already have rules on this topic that McCain supports).
I asked about two things - one, Obama's announced plan "that would give families a stimulus check of $1,000 each, funded in part by what his presidential campaign calls 'windfall profits from Big Oil.'" - and two, this passage from Obama's website on "Energy & the Environment":
Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund: Obama will create a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund to fill a critical gap in U.S. technology development. Obama will invest $10 billion per year into this fund for five years. The fund will partner with existing investment funds and our National Laboratories to ensure that promising technologies move beyond the lab and are commercialized in the U.S,
My question was whether we should be concerned that Obama was moving towards more government control of sources of energy production that had heretofore been controlled by the private sector (I thought better of asking them to directly compare Obama's energy policies to those of Hugo Chavez).
Rep. Cantor replied first, saying that we are not going to be able to tax our way out of energy supply problems, and after noting again the Democrats' lack of action on this issue he stressed that imposing windfall profits taxes had been tried under President Carter and led to less domestic energy production. He accused Obama of "seeking culprits rather than solutions" on energy. He noted that there is broad popular support, over 2/3 support, for more domestic oil exploration, and said we would not solve our energy problems by cutting people checks and that it was a dicey business to start trying to decide which profits are legitimate.
Holtz-Eakin stepped in next to say that at a technical level, Sen. Obama's plan to use taxpayer money for 'venture capital' just doesn't work, noting that lots of private venture capital in Silicon Valley and elsewhere is already heavily invested in the search for alternative fuels. He contrasted Sen. McCain's plan, which utilizes the private sector in the search for new battery technology. He concluded that Obama is offering "just words to fill a void where he knows we need action."
- A reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked whether the current energy crisis was all Bush's fault for failing to ask for national action after 9/11 to wean us off foreign oil. Rather than rehash the battles over prior energy bills, both Cantor and Holtz-Eakin took the view that the problems had been longstanding and bipartisan, but Cantor closed for the kill on Obama by noting once again the failure of action on pending drilling bills:
The first thing he should do is pick up the phone and call Speaker Pelosi and ask her to move for a floor vote on the bill now pending in the House to allow for more domestic energy exploration.
- A reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times compared energy to housing and asked why Americans think we have an entitlement to cheap oil. Rep. Cantor challenged the use of the term "entitlement" but said that the simple fact is, we are in a fossil fuel economy and as long as we are, we need to lower prices because they are hurting families and businesses.