Election year politics are derailing efforts to improve Wyoming’s economy

May 11, 2012

President Obama is chiding Congress for not acting on his slimmed down plan to spur economic growth in Wyoming and elsewhere. Matt Laslo reports from Washington that election year politicking is expected to derail this latest effort to get the economy moving.

MATT LASLO: This week the president laid out a “to do” list for Congress. He’s asking lawmakers to help him lower interest rates on mortgages for millions of homeowners struggling with their payments in the midst of this sluggish economy. And he wants to entice U-S companies with holdings overseas to invest that money here at home. In a speech in Albany, New York the president urged Congress to pass these and three other components of the Jobs Act he introduced earlier in the year.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Just saying no to ideas that we know will help our economy isn’t an option, there’s too much at stake. We’ve all got to pull in the same direction. So even if Republicans are still saying “no” to some of the bigger proposals we made in the Jobs Act there are some additional ideas that could help people get to work right now and that they haven’t said “no” to yet, so I’m hoping they say “yes.”

LASLO: Wyoming’s three Republican members of Congress are dubious of the president’s charge, though. A central plank in the administration’s new legislative push is to renew a series of tax breaks that have helped Wyoming’s renewable energy industry get off the ground. Senior Senator Mike Enzi says Democratic leaders aren’t letting senators debate and tweak legislation. He says the president is also saying ‘take it or leave it.’

SEN. MIKE ENZI: If he’s got a bunch of energy bills he’s designed the same way they’re designed to fail. They’re designed to make Republicans look bad. And that’s not the role the president ought to play, but this one is playing that game every day.”

LASLO: Enzi says Democrats are not allowing issues to be fully debated in committee.  As for the tax credits for energy firms, Enzi says he’s not opposed to the idea but he wants Congress to debate them.

ENZI: Yes it’s a good policy for the nation. But you’ve got to look at the details on it. I have no ideas what the details are. And the committees that are familiar with it ought to be looking at the details on it. But they’re not sending anything to committees these days. They’re just designed to show that Congress can’t get anything done. And that’s why they can’t because it doesn’t go to committee where bipartisan work can be done.

LASLO: Republican Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis is skeptical for a different reason. She says she discusses the renewable tax credits with Wyoming energy firms often, so she knows the industry currently depends on them.

REP. CYNTHIA LUMMIS: Well, we have a lot of renewables in Wyoming, particularly wind energy, so they are important to some of our wind energy businesses.

LASLO: But Lummis says she thinks it’s time for Congress to rethink how the government incentivizes energy firms. This gets a little technical, but stick with me. Lummis wants to switch from tax credits to tax deductions. Currently these energy firms get tax credits, which means they get a hefty lump sum from the government annually based on the amount of energy they produce. Lummis wants Congress to switch to tax deductions, which would mean companies would get a smaller refund that would probably be based on a percentage of their energy output.

LUMMIS: It’s going to have a big difference in the actual tax benefit associated. However having it be a deduction rather than a credit will begin to wean some of these industries off credits that we can no longer afford.

LASLO: Environmentalists say tax credits have helped make the wind industry competitive. They also point to the subsidies the oil and gas industry enjoys and say these tax credits are leveling the playing field and helping clean America’s air. Courtney Abrams is the federal clean energy advocate for Environment America. She says the data speaks for itself.

COURTNEY ABRAMS: The price of wind has dropped 90% since 1980 with support of things like the Production Tax Credit, and it’s creating jobs here in the United States. So 60% of a wind turbine’s value is now produced in the United States – up from 25% before 2005.

LASLO: Besides energy, the president’s plan would provide tax credits to small businesses who hire new employees and the House has already acted on a bill to ease the tax burden on small firms. But Republicans still don’t seem to be on board with the president. That has Democrats, such as Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, accusing the G-O-P of trying to play politics with the economy.

JIM MORAN: Even if it was something that the House majority had planned to do the fact the president asked them to do it they wouldn’t do it. The principle objective of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is to defy and defeat the President of the United States.

LASLO: The partisan tit for tat is nothing new, and analysts expect the gridlock to persist through November s elections. That means the president and House Republicans are both likely to continue to see their agenda’s blunted. Voters will then be left to decipher which party is to blame for the sluggish economy.

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Matt Laslo in Washington.