Republicans dropping like flies from new Soros subsidy bet

Christopher Horner Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Font Size:

In today’s Washington, both parties espouse reining in out-of-control spending, earmarks, crony capitalism and corporate welfare. Even once-sacrosanct ethanol subsidy schemes are teetering on the chopping block.

But even as public disgust over subsidy boondoggles mounts, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is flirting with cramming through a new black hole of energy subsidies. Their project is H.R. 1380, absurdly titled “the NAT GAS Act.” If enacted, it would represent our fourth ethanol-style boondoggle, along with corn ethanol subsidies, solar subsidies, and wind subsidies.

The bill promises a tax credit of up to 80% of the price of a natural gas vehicle, from $8,000 for passenger cars up to $64,000 for heavy trucks. As if the current $7,500 tax credit from the rest of us to underwrite a middle-class curbside bauble, the $41,000 “green” Volt version of Government Motors’s $16,000 Cruze, wasn’t offensive enough.

H.R. 1380 is estimated to cost taxpayers between $5 billion and $9 billion over five years. Leading supporter T. Boone Pickens cynically pitches his project by arguing that if we don’t like it after five years, we can just let it expire. Kind of like the wind tax credit, which expires every three years or so, only to be reinstated because we can’t “kill jobs” — not even the phony, bubble kind. Not after constituencies have been created demanding to be fed.

Some things die hard in Washington, even now that there’s a new class of nominal reformers in the majority of the House, which was where promoters of this new subsidy scheme started. H.R. 1380, which was introduced on April 6, garnered about 180 co-sponsors almost immediately. Over 80 Republicans supported the bill, and its champion was Tea Party stalwart John Sullivan, who’s from Pickens’s backyard of Oklahoma.

If it passes the House, this measure would be sure to pass the Democrat Senate and then get signed into law by President Obama — or at minimum be used to hold hostage some item Republicans really want.

It gets worse. Although Pickens is the most visible champion of the bill, in the past couple of weeks it’s come to light that this is actually a major new play of none other than George Soros. Soros is of course known for going long or short on bets that fit with the plans of his many other activities designed to influence government and remake the world into something more in line with his left-wing views.

As stock-watcher GuruFocus wrote in “Stocks that George Soros Keeps Buying,” Soros has accumulated 5.5 million shares in something called Westport Innovations Inc. (WPRT).

GuruFocus noted Soros “added his positions in the Dec. 31, 2010 quarter by 38.98%, again in the Mar. 31, 2011 quarter by 22.56%. Soros bought a massive 1.8 million shares at the early of 2010, and he has been buying ever since . . . and his holdings has [sic] steadily and interestingly increased by 1 million every quarter, this is a stock that should be looked more closely and for understanding why he has so much confidence in this stock. No other guru but one currently has any shares of this stock and that guru only owns 280,000 shares not 5.5 million.”

Answering this question somewhat, StreetInsider.com’s latest missive reads, “Westport (WPRT) Set to Explode Upon Passage of Nat Gas Act — [CNBC’s Jim] Cramer.”

So it’s little wonder that Republicans are beginning to abandon the bill as word gets around about what’s being perpetrated, in part under their name.

In recent days, early sponsors Rep. Mike Coffman (CO-6), Rep. John Kline (MN-2), Rep. Cory Gardner (CO-4) and Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-3) withdrew their support for the bill. They joined Reps. Glenn Thompson (PA-5), Tim Griffin (AR-2), Mike Kelly (PA-3), Larry Bucshon (IN-8), Steve Pearce (NM-2) and Senate aspirant Todd Akin (MO-2), who had already withdrawn their support from this policy obscenity.

I ran into one of these members at an airport recently, and he explained how he became a co-sponsor after being buttonholed on the floor with a sales pitch that proved to be something less than complete, only to hear an earful from staff when they learned of the move. Upon learning what the bill was really about, he withdrew his support for it, at the risk of alienating a colleague and a couple of billionaires, which, sadly, is something members of Congress rarely do.

But it’s less rare than it used to be. And three more Republican oddities — from Florida, Virginia and Texas — are rumored to also be on their way to withdrawing their support for the bill.

The Republicans’ pitch of having learned from their profligate past is made ever more difficult when scores among their ranks jump on a brand new energy subsidy scheme, providing favors to special interests groups that happen to have active political operations. But it’s not too late, and some are seeing the light.

Chris Horner is a senior fellow at The Competitive Enterprise Institute.