As Ronald Reagan famously said, “There you go again.”
Of course, Reagan was blaming Jimmy Carter for launching false attacks during a debate. And that line was so effective, it not only helped Reagan win the debate, but a presidential election that would change American history.
But “there you go again” can apply equally to President Obama. Once again this week, the president was out on the campaign trail bashing oil and gas companies. And he continued to spread major falsehoods about this industry, which I guess is the polite way to put it.
Obama is obsessed with oil and gas. He is a prisoner of the left-wing environmental groups. And really, he’s extending his leftist class-warfare attack from rich people to successful oil and gas producers.
What seems to have Obama especially steamed is the fact that the conventional energy companies are profitable. Especially the five largest. So he wants to tax them. He then wants to redistribute their income to his favorite green energy firms. Sound familiar? I don’t know which is more important to the president — the fact that he hates fossil fuel, or the fact that he hates success. Or that he wants an energy-entitlement state.
But here’s what I do know, factually.
Oil companies have an effective corporate tax rate well above 40 percent. And they operate within one of the highest-taxed industries in America. According to the Tax Foundation, for more than 25 years, oil and gas companies have sent more tax dollars to Washington and state capitals than they earned in profits. That’s a fact.
Single-handedly, oil and gas companies finance over 10 percent of non-defense discretionary spending within the U.S. budget. According to The Wall Street Journal, ExxonMobil, the world’s largest energy firm, paid out $59 billion in total U.S. taxes over the five years prior to 2010 while earning only $40.5 billion in domestic profits.
And Obama wants to raise taxes on conventional energy firms by somewhere between $40 billion and $80 billion? Whatever happened to the supply-side principle that if you tax something more, you get less of it?
But with gasoline prices headed towards $5 a gallon, and with oil prices over $100 a barrel, virtually the whole country outside of the White House wants more oil, more retail gas for the pump and more energy supplies everywhere in order to bring prices down. Raising taxes won’t do it.
Make no mistake about it: Fossil fuel is going to drive the American economy for decades to come. Green energy is not.
Obama’s other line of attack is that oil companies shouldn’t get any subsidies. They made too much money for that. Well, I’m against oil subsidies. There’s about $90 billion worth in the federal budget. Better to end them, slash corporate tax rates across the board and let the free market decide energy policy and production.
But on the subject of subsidies, so-called renewable energy subsidies (think Solyndra) are 49 times greater than fossil fuel subsidies, according to studies by the Congressional Research Service. And the Congressional Budget Office says that renewable energy companies received 68 percent of energy-related tax preferences in fiscal year 2011, while fossil fuel companies got only 15 percent. Additionally, oil, natural gas and coal received 64 cents per megawatt hour in subsidies, while wind power alone received $56.29 per megawatt hour. That’s 100 times what fossil fuels got.
By the way, the so-called subsidies that Obama is talking about are really depreciation write-offs for investment. Oil companies get a 6 percent deduction from income. Most manufacturing industries get 9 percent. And every company in the economy is eligible for faster investment write-offs.
Frankly, the most pro-growth corporate tax policy would be 100 percent cash-expensing for new investment, a slashed corporate tax rate and no more subsidies, preferences or carve-outs. That would be an unbelievable job-creator.
But President Obama is too busy spewing falsehoods to support his ideological agenda to take account of the facts. And while he’s at it, one of the greatest, most pro-growth revolutions ever is taking place right under his nose. It’s the oil and gas shale miracle, which if left unfettered will turn America and Canada into an energy-independent New Middle East inside of 10 years.
In fact, the collapse of natural gas prices brought on by this revolution could become one of the biggest tax cuts for the economy in history — making all our industries vastly more competitive, revolutionizing transportation and providing more consumer real income at home.
Obama should quit the demagoguery, stop bashing oil and gas, stop taxing success and let our ingenious, creative, free-enterprise private economy spur America to a new generation of prosperity.
Larry Kudlow is the host of CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report.”