Why Obama's Drilling Compromise Makes Some Sense

by: Matt Stoller

Tue Aug 05, 2008 at 19:34

Though I don't think Obama should have caved on drilling for political reasons, there are two significant differences between his shift on this issue and his shift on FISA.  The first difference is that on drilling, when he puts forward the concept of a compromise, it's actually a real compromise.  While it opens up some new areas for drilling, it also does the following.
Matt Stoller :: Why Obama's Drilling Compromise Makes Some Sense

The $84 billion New Energy Reform Act would fund an effort - which its backers liken to the Apollo moon landing program - to transform the nation's cars and trucks, with a goal of having 85 percent of new vehicles on the road run on nonpetroleum-based fuels within 20 years.

To pay for their proposal, lawmakers would raise the major oil companies' taxes by excluding them from tax credits that apply to other manufacturers.

In other words, the compromise put forward by Obama would in fact move us forward on sustainable energy while raising taxes on the oil companies.  Since opening up new areas to oil companies is more about financial manipulation of oil leases than actually drilling, this is calling the oil company's bluff.  I still have reservations, but it's now on McCain to respond.  Does he actually support a compromise, as he said, or does he support his earlier position opposing the Energy bill earlier this year?  The right consistently says they want to develop all forms of energy, but when push comes to shove, they always gut incentives to develop alternative energy sources while protecting subsidies to oil and coal.  This compromise exploits the wedge between their rhetoric and their substance.  By contrast, the FISA deal was just a capitulation, including everything the right wanted and very little else.

Two, while on FISA, there was real organizing work going on to oppose the bill, on drilling there isn't.  The environmental groups are basically silent and uninterested in this one, and at no point in the primary did Obama stake out his opposition to drilling as evidence that he deserved votes in the primary.  He did discuss global warming, but a genuine compromise on drilling plus alternative energy might actually be a good start in dealing with climate change.

So now, Obama has offered a compromise to McCain - a comprehensive energy bill with drilling, removing oil company subsidies, and funding alternative energy development.  And what will McCain say?  Will he stand with the oil companies to keep them well subsidized with tax credits they don't deserve?  That's the question Obama is hoping to put on the table.

... If pop culture is any guide, Obama's compromise has legs, but he's not understood as the one offering it.

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Quite right (4.00 / 2)
I like that even while Obama says he would swallow some more drilling for the sake of compromise, he still says flat-out that it's not going to make a difference. This is another contrast with FISA, where he tried to sell us the usual B.S. about needing to maintain wiretapping powers and using the IG's to enforce whether laws were broken.

I know folks are talking about the debate moderators right now, but is anyone paying attention to whether there will be a standing-at-podiums debate this year? So far, the Debates Commission has proposed a town hall debate and two sit-down debates, which I think would be HORRIBLE for Obama.

Not only does he have the height advantage, but standing at a podium would make him look presidential. I think table debates are always too cordial and bland. Hopefully somebody is calling Rahm Emmanuel (the debate negotiator) or the Obama camp to see whether they are pressing for a podium debate.

There will be a lot of WTF next month if Obama's camp doesn't negotiate at least one podium debate.

FISA was a special case, I believe (4.00 / 1)
One that had less to do with electoral politics than with backroom dealmaking and winning the nomination, I suspect. So I don't expect it to be repeated again on some other issue. He supported immunity to protect fellow Dems, not telcoms, BushCo or the GOP. And their support was contingent on his doing this. I have no direct proof of this, but how else to explain Rockefeller's open support for Obama in a heavily white working class and pro-Clinton state in which the senior senator didn't endorse? Or Pelosi and Reid'ss obvious preference for Obama even though they didn't formally endorse? Back room politics 101.

I still think that it sucked, but politics is politics. Hopefully, he'll flip-flop on his flip-flop as president. And if he does, it won't be obvious. Getting this right is going to have to be very low-key and under the radar. Lots of entrenched powers who don't want it to happen and can cause him a lot of pain. But if he wants to be as powerful as he'll need to be to be a transformational president, he'll have to destroy the existing power structure and replace it with his own. And what better way to do so than with something like this? Or torture? Or the lies that got us into this war? Or massive MI corruption? Or the whole lot?

But first he has to get elected, which requires his party's full support.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
that's ridiculous (0.00 / 0)
Yeah, Obama had some secret plan to cover for Democrats on FISA, even though they didn't need his cover to cave.  Obama said that the FISA compromise was a good compromise, so unless you believe he lied when saying that, which would make him politically craven, this idea is stupid.  And if he was lying when he said it was a good compromise, then he was politically craven, just in a different way.

[ Parent ]
Of course he gave them cover for caving. (4.00 / 1)
If he strongly opposed caving, his movement might've been able to attach a political price for capitulation.

I think kovie--and Mimikatz, if memory serves--are correct. I think Obama did lie when he said it was a good compromise, and he did that to consolidate his political position not among those like myself who remain deeply disenchanted by his FISA support, but among those Democrats who should've spoken against the criminal activity five years ago, and didn't.

The only thing more ridiculous than presuming there's always a secret agreement among politicians is presuming there's never one.

Doesn't much matter to me, either way: in my book, Obama did wrong, end of story. But this rationale makes more sense to me than any other.

[ Parent ]
Turley and Dean agree with me (0.00 / 0)
As do a number of prominent progressive bloggers who are experienced lawyers, so it's not like I pulled this out of nowhere or am engaging in idle CTing. It makes a lot of sense. The implication that he genuinely decided that it was a good bill after all, after a year of opposing it, does not. It would be like Cheney joining the Sierra Club.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
doesn't matter (0.00 / 0)
Larry Lessig spoke to a number of high level Obama advisors who did think it was a good bill.  The point is that one way or the other, Obama lied to progressives for his own political advantage, and from the outside, it's impossible to know anything else.  Assuming he's transformational or on 'our' side on anything is a mistake.

[ Parent ]
You're really confusing me now (0.00 / 0)
First you deny that Obama lied--or at least gave the impression that you did--then you call me a "whore" for allegedly being ok with Obama's alleged lying--which I absolutely am not and gave no such indication. Now you agree that he lied, "for his own political advantage", which is precisely what I said, albeit by being more specific about what I believe those advanatages were. So basically, we agree on everything, except the specific nature of the political reasons that he did this. So I'm seriously confused where your hostility is coming from.

And I'm quite aware of how Sunstein et al views FISA and related legal matters concerning this administration--i.e. slap on the wrist and just move on. Doesn't mean that Obama flip-flopped on FISA because he suddenly decided that illegal wiretaps weren't that big a deal after all. If so, why the repeated and adamant assertions prior to his flip-flop that he would NOT support immunity? I see very little possibility that this was an ideological flip-flop. It was, like you said, almost certainly political. So why throw in what his advisors allegedly told Lessig when this contradicts your assertion about this being a political flip-flop?

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
? (0.00 / 0)
First you deny that Obama lied--or at least gave the impression that you did

Well there's your confusion.  I am pretty clear that Obama lied.  Not sure where you get anything else, but if you read me you'll know that I am not one who particularly trusts this person.

[ Parent ]
So what are we arguing about, beyond specifics? (4.00 / 1)
I also said that I believe that he lied. I've been saying this since he caved on FISA. I have never said otherwise. I don't expect you to have followed my many comments on this matter (although considering that I comment here fairly frequently, I can't imagine that you've entirely missed them), but I thought that I was as clear as you claim to have been that I believe that he lied about FISA, and that this was craven and despicable AND unnecessary and stupid. So we both AGREE on this, even if you're just figuring this out.

Sheesh, what a silly side-thread over nothing.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
Of course he lied, of course he's craven--he's a politician! (0.00 / 0)
Are you actually suggesting that he genuinely believed his horseshit about how it was a good compromise, after having repeatedly said that he'd vote against any bill that had immunity? Or are you still sticking to your suggestion to take Obama at his word, because Obama himself told us to do so, when it's literally impossible to take him at his word now after he flip-flopped on FISA and a number of other issues? That makes no sense whatsoever.

Whatever the reasons, he lied and flip-flopped on FISA, and the most plausible reason to me is because he was made to understand in no uncertain terms that Dems wanted immunity to happen, because a number of them were implicated in the illegal wiretaps by having approved of it in '01-'02. Why else would Dems have pushed so hard to pass this bill? They were under no reasonable electoral pressure to do so. This was self-protection, and Obama likely went along to help secure the nomination.

Your rebuttal makes no sense if it rests upon the assumption or assertion that Obama didn't lie and isn't craven. You really believe that he's "different" in this way? Just because he appears to be smarter than most pols, and perhaps even more honest and decent for the most part compared to most pols, doesn't mean that he hasn't, doesn't and won't continue to lie. Nearly all pols do that. We expect and account for it.

Now, he might not have flip-flopped on FISA for the reason that I stated. He might have done so for other reasons (e.g. innoculating himself against charges of being soft on terror). Or for this AND other reasons. But none of those reasons could possibly have included his belief that that was a good bill, given who he is and his track record as a lawyer, constitutional expert and legislator. Whatever they were, he flipped for political, not principled reasons.

And while Dems might not have needed his cover, it certainly didn't hurt them that he voted with them. And who knows, maybe he was afraid that if he didn't flip-flop, they might have turned around and sided with Clinton, or been less helpful in the general. There is a clear pattern of political hypercaution in his past that foreshadowed this flip-flop. E.g. conveniently missing the K-L and MoveOn votes, among others, voting for various war funding bills, engaging in less than aggressive questioning in hearings, etc.

He might be a really smart one, but he's still a politician, Matt.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
although (0.00 / 0)
Someone observed that Obama did better at the sit-down debates during the primary than the stand up ones.  (I recall the stand up ones tended to be nastier, though maybe that's a coincidence.)  

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
very interesting analysis (0.00 / 0)
thanks for the details.

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

Thanks for this Matt (0.00 / 0)
I tended to agree when I heard the news. I new that if Dorgan and Conrad were a part of it, more taxes on oil companies was also going to be a part of it.

Hopefully he can do as you say and put to the onus on McCain to ante up. He'll look bad if Obama is willing to comprimise but McCain is not.

I made essentially the same point as your first point (0.00 / 0)
in a comment several days ago, that unlike FISA, this wasn't a flip-flop, but a genuine compromise that was part of an overall attempt to forge a bipartisan deal on energy policy. One can dispute whether this was a good or necessary compromise, but it was a compromise, not a flip-flop. I.e. backing down somewhat, with the understanding that the other side was to do so as well--and if it doesn't, the deal is off, and we're back to square one.

I also agree that he's calling their bluff, and believe that in the end they won't similarly compromise on their demands, and that this will end up being merely an offer to compromise, and not an actual one, and he'll be able to say "See, we were willing to back down, but they weren't, so who's being bipartisan, and who's being obstuctionist?"

Policy-wise it might have been unwise, but politically it might end up being smart. How's McConnell going to handle this one? Forget the sideshow by desperate Repubs in the house--Pelosi will not fold and adjourn the house--this is up to the senate now. Will he call Obama's gambit and risk alienating the pro-oil element in his party? Or will he try to make Obama's demands unreasonable, while making him out to be a flip-flopper? I don't see how he does that on this. It just doesn't have legs.

Obama has now innoculated himself against charges that he's against drilling (which, of course, shouldn't have been necessary because only a complete moron believes that it would reduce gas prices), so they can't use that against him. Plus, falling gas prices might well make this issue irrelevant by the fall. This is so inside baseball. A process story. Won't affect the election much, if at all, I suspect, if prices continue to fall. And if they don't, well, he's for drilling, so how can he be a radical tree-hugger?

The GOP set themselves up for self-injury on this, and Obama's more than willing to oblige. It's almost like he orchestrated this by being against drilling, before he was "for" it.

Heh, '04 upside down.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

Well, I guess (4.00 / 1)
It's true that not all cave-ins and capitulations to corporate power are as egregious as his FISA reversal--is that the standard now?

Is it politically smart? Maybe, but when the future of civilization is at stake, there's no such thing as an acceptable surrender to the oil companies. It's ratifying drilling as "solution" to our energy woes. Do you think this'll be the last push for drilling? Obama needs to do something that shows political courage--this might've been a good issue on which to display it, a line-in-the-sand kind of stand.

Brent Blackwelder of Friends of the Earth put it well:

Senator Obama should focus on continuing to advocate real solutions and avoid yielding to oil companies and allowing more offshore drilling


But what if he's calling their bluff? (0.00 / 0)
And what if he's doing so in a way that he believes they will not come halfway on? Wouldn't that not only end up conceding absolutely nothing concrete to the other side, but make it look like it is actually the side that is being stubborn, craven and insincere (which of course it is)?

You really think that they're going to vote for a huge spending bill--for alternative energy development of all things, and which implicitely accepts the reality of global warming? Yeah, that'll play well with their base--without which they will have a hard time keeping 40+ seats next year.

This is about electoral politics, not substantive policy, which rarely gets passed by this point in a presidential election year anyway. If anything does get passed, it'll be better for us than them, on both a policy and political level. Repubs know this, which is why they're not likely to go along with such "compromises", because it hurts them with their base. The best that they can hope for is to obstruct such bills in a way that makes it look like Dems are obstructing. And Obama, along with Pelosi and others, is helping to make that really hard.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
I agree with you and Brent, David (0.00 / 0)
Having cars run on alternatives might also mean giving something to T. Boone and the natural gas guys (who are also oil guys).  Some guy was cleaning my windows at COSTCO yesterday and said that he worked for Chevron  and the bosses were "old thinkers", There were spills all the time.  Instead of trying to clean them up responsibly, they put soap in the spills so they would sink the oil.  Nice.  He said that the owner of COSTCO is not an old thinker like the gas guys are.

[ Parent ]
Also (4.00 / 1)
apparently the compromise bill would extend tax credits for solar and wind that are about to expire. For those of you that listen to Talk of the Nation Science Friday on NPR, you'll know that this is an absolutely critical issue that is threatening to derail several very large scale solar thermal plants in the Southwest. My understanding is that these tax credits have been held up by Republican fillibusters because Democrats want to pay for them by raising taxes on oil companies. If in exchange for offshore drilling the bill includes higher taxes on oil companies and tax credits for solar and wind, maybe that is a compromise that we can swallow. As Matt points out, at least it is a real compromise, not simply a cave-in to special interests.  

Whooaaaa (0.00 / 0)
Well shut my mouth.

John McCain doesn't care about Vets.

[ Parent ]
Which is why Repubs won't support this bill (0.00 / 0)
in its present form, because big oil won't like it, and their base will view them as weak if they go for it. Hopefully, Obama and Dems will stand firm and make this their best and last offer for a deal, which will end up making Repubs look like obstructionists, which won't play well with swing voters. I can visualize the targeted attack ads already...

"Senator X voted AGAINST a bill that would promote the development of alternative energy for tomorrow, and allow more domestic oil drilling for today. What does Senator X have against helping struggling families with their energy bills in these difficult times? Vote for Senator Y, who voted FOR this bill."

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
Some ideas for pushback on drilling (0.00 / 0)
(I am from India, but equally burned up about stupidity).

How about handing out checks for $0.05 (or whatever the right amount is) payable in 2019, representing the savings from offshore drilling?  If Moveon.org or SEIU were to send one to all their members, or perhaps even every member of Congress and Senate that supports offshore drilling, it would probably make headlines in all the papers, and lead to the discussion of the real value of offshore drilling - would not only hurt McCain, but help all the Democrats getting pressure on drilling.  It might help reframe the debate.

It could be accompanied by a letter explaining the pros and cons of offshore drilling (in a non-partisan, objective way with citations), explaining the Obama Energy Plan and indicating that this is pushback to making fun of tire gauges, including citing sources to show that tire gauges would generate the same savings, but right now.  In fact, it would generate even more savings, because it is a drop in demand of an item with an inelastic demand/supply curve.  Perhaps it could make fun of the McCain campaign, that they were at last doing something constructive in providing tire gauges to thousands of people, even if they were confused enough to think that they were doing damage.

A second idea is to create a non-partisan viral Email on "what can be done about rising gas prices".  This should cover every measure that we can think of that would help people, including personal measures, community measures and government measures.  Group these into short-term, medium-term and long-term.  For each, identify the pros, cons and potential impact.  The content could include all the useful ideas from the Time article and other sources, with citations.

Short-term measures would include driving at 45 or 55 mph, inflating tires properly and other maintenance, avoiding unnecessary acceleration, avoid idling the engine for over 1 minute, using public transportation, using bicycles to get to work, supporting profitability of public transportation options (e.g. local measures to raise bus fares to ensure that routes are profitable - an article recently mentioned that communities were cutting back on routes because increases in gas prices were making them not break even), creating rideshare sites on craigslist or other boards (community action), releasing petrol from strategic reserve (analyze both pro and cons) etc.

Medium term would include switching to more fuel efficient cars, improving public transportation options (new routes etc), moving closer to work if possible or finding work closer to home, improving the national public transportation infrastructure, improving supply by requiring drilling on already leased lands (use it or lose it), pushing employers to band together to create hub-and-spoke transportation to/from work (community solution).  In India, large companies run buses for employees, much like school buses.  A group of businesses could work together to set up pick up of employees from different parts of the city, and take them to a common area where they switch to other buses that will take them to each employer's workplace - this would work great for Universities etc, and especially for workplaces with fixed arrival & departure timings.  Also reduces traffic jams that waste even more fuel.  The same could be done for major public events such as football games - and campaign rallies?

Long-term solutions would include figuring out and implementing the right mix of public and private transportation for each area, improving supply by drilling (analysis of pros and cons and impact can spread the right information on this), switching to alternative energy sources and alternative vehicle types.

It is important to frame it in a non-partisan way with proper sources and links for more information (like the high-quality netroots diaries).  If this is done right, without any pejorative references to Republicans, everyone would want to forward it to others because it provides so much useful information.  It would reframe the debate right, and create the political space for the national energy plan.  The environment is probably right to create and send out an Email like this this week, and use the power of the netroots and/or Moveon to spread this message as a public service.

A great possibility is to actually work with Redstate members (if we can find some constructive ones) to create a balanced list of pros and cons, perhaps including alternative viewpoints explicitly (without labelling them Democrat / Republican).  This would help to eliminate pushback charging that the mail was biased, and might help change even some of their minds as to the right energy plan.  Perhaps Repubs would flip-flop to the same ideas, and claim it was their approach all along :-)

Another framing exercise is to make sure that everyone in the netroots understands the difference between attacks (that point out where another candidate is wrong on issues, or what they have done that's wrong) from character assassination (that uses lies / deceptions / innuendo to try to damage someone's reputation - good name).  Distinguishing between the two clearly, and pushing back on anyone who suggests that character assassination is the way to go, starts creating a framing on the difference that will spill over to the national media and other people.  Attacks are necessary in a campaign, character assassination is clearly "not respectful".

Finally, this is a frame that Obama is pushing that the netroots could push extensively as well, and volunteers could push in door-to-door campaigning:  Republicans were the party of ideas in the 1980s - they proposed and implemented trickle-down and tax cuts, especially for the rich, as the core governing philosophy; it has become increasingly clear that this set of ideas is a failure as a way of governance - it leads to large deficits, widening income gaps with no real increase in incomes for the middle-class over the last 30 years, declining national infrastructure; the only time this trend was partially reversed was with a Democratic president; as this became obvious, the only way that Republicans could gain / retain power was through character assassination; they now have no way to persuade people to vote for them other than to focus away from issues and only on false images of people created through lies and attacks; that now people are beginning to see through this as well.  Creating the clear linkage all the way from Reagan and trickle-down through to failure of governance and character assassination will definitely stick over a period of months, especially when done in individual conversations - and especially if the theme is pushed that this is a turn away from core conservatism and that it is time for the other party to return to those principles - even Republicans will buy that message, nearly none of them agree with the current positioning.

Sorry to go on for so long.  I realize this should have been a dairy.

Thank you for saying (0.00 / 0)
what was obvious to a lot of us from the beginning: oil drilling compromise -- good; FISA 'compromise' -- bad.

only in America (0.00 / 0)
The $84 billion New Energy Reform Act would fund an effort - which its backers liken to the Apollo moon landing program - to transform the nation's cars and trucks, with a goal of having 85 percent of new vehicles on the road run on nonpetroleum-based fuels within 20 years.

To pay for their proposal, lawmakers would raise the major oil companies' taxes by excluding them from tax credits that apply to other manufacturers.

Does anyone have a breakdown of how much money is going where from this bill, both presnt and current day?  Aside from that, I'm more than a little worried that this is going to fund ethanol, something that is already contributing to a global food crisis.

I don't know all the numbers, but caving on the gas tax holiday (which is pretty miniscule, I imagine, given its length) would policywise have been a better solution than this in the short term for a progressive if it was followed by, after the election, a better comprehensive piece of legislation on energy reform (esp after releasing Dick Cheney's energy "task force" meetings as a way of generating political momentum).

But assuming the money is not weighted 70/30 towards the oil companies, it could have been worse.


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