Monday, August 18, 2008

Bill Sali (R-ID) Blog

Bill Sali (R-ID) Blog

I guess that it won't be a surprise that Bill Sali, who represents the 1st Congressional District here in Idaho, has a blog trying to get him re-elected. I'm not sure how many Idahoans even know what blogs are--much less read them--but like a lot of such innovations, it costs almost nothing to do, and I like to think that blog readers are such technologically sophisticated and thoughtful sorts simply because they read blogs that this will make a difference. I may be biased, of course, in favor of the idea that people who read blogs are especially clever and with it.

I will confess that backing Bill Sali isn't all that difficult a decision. The last thing I want is a bunch more puppets of billionaires up in Congress, which makes nearly any Democrat running for the seat a bit suspicious. One thing that I like about Bill Sali is that he says stuff that just infuriates left-wing newspapers like the Idaho Statesman--and when he makes clearly true statements such as that America was founded on Christian principles--it just drives the leftists crazy. That alone should be at least one argument in Sali's favor.

Even if I didn't support Sali, my only encounters with Walt Minnick, who ended up with the Democratic nomination, sure haven't impressed me. Back in March, I pointed out that a letter that Minnick wrote to a number of newspapers around Idaho about the real problem of the uninsured was just flat out wrong:
I saw a letter to the March 26, 2008 Idaho World from Walt Minnick, the Democrat intent on unseating Bill Sali, attacking Sali for his approach to solving the problem of uninsured Idahoans. In that letter, Minnick complained about "the 40% of Idahoans who don't have insurance." That sounded high, but I just assumed that Minnick is as careful as I am when making factual claims. I guess not.

Here's a website sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which wants everyone covered. It claims that the 2006 Current Population Survey data indicates that 14.7% of Idahoans are uninsured. That's actually better than the national average (although not by much).

Here's a report put together by Mathematica Policy Research for the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee last year. It estimates that 16-18% of the "non-elderly population" of Idaho is uninsured as of 2005. (People over 65 are covered by Medicare; hence the discrepancy with the 14.7% figure.)
I also saw Minnick speak at a candidate's forum in which I participated, and I was not impressed. Minnick talked a lot about alternative energy, but it sounded far more like "Congress can spend money on stuff, and we'll get clean, renewable energy from it" than anything that suggested that he really had a clue about economics. These remarks on his web page seem to be more of the same mix of "the oil companies need to be taxed more" and the kind of subsidies to business that created the corn ethanol idiocy:

Profits aren’t bad. But record profits that come from huge subsidies and high prices on a basic necessity are flat-out wrong. The special tax breaks and incentives given to “big oil” are an egregious example of how Washington insiders have got their priorities backwards. Taxpayers shouldn’t bear the brunt of breaks for special interests lining their pockets with our dollars. We shouldn’t be giving preferred tax treatment to the biggest oil companies in the world, who are reaping record profits while driving the average Idahoan into the poorhouse.

Our national energy policy is backwards and fixing it is one of my top priorities. We know we can convert forest and agricultural waste into biofuels to help us wean our country away from foreign oil. The government should provide tax incentives to producers and consumers to help “jump start” these technologies, which can create many new, good-paying jobs in rural Idaho.
I'm not quite sure what "special tax breaks and incentives" he's talking about. There is the depletion allowance:

In tax law, the deductions from gross income allowed investors in exhaustible commodities (such as minerals, oil, or gas) for the depletion of the deposits. The depletion allowance is intended as an incentive to stimulate investment in this high-risk industry, though critics argue that mineral deposits are valuable enough to justify high levels of investment even without tax incentives. See also depreciation.
This isn't specific to oil, of course, but to all exhaustible resources--including timber. You could, I suppose, make an argument that the depletion allowance doesn't make sense today--but then Minnick needs to be talking about all the industries that enjoy the benefits of the depletion allowance. I somehow rather doubt that Idaho's timber industry--or its mining industry--would be keen on seeing their "special tax break" going away.

Yes, I'm sure that there are ways to convert forest and agricultural waste to biofuel. But if the consequences of government subsidies of corn ethanol are instructive, it might be an argument against more such encouragement. As I have pointed out in the past, there is a rather fundamental difference between funding basic research and subsidizing energy waste:
With respect to purely research activities, my sympathies with respect to alternative energy are a little stronger. (Of course, "alternative energy" includes nuclear power.) While some serious boondoggles definitely come out of such research projects, there is no question that some of the government promoted R&D has created some useful results. If we could get fusion power plants operating, petroleum would become just an interesting source of plastics--and oil exporting countries that have little to offer the world but overblown thuggish leaders would go back to the fourteenth century. No loss.

That said, I think it is important to distinguish true R&D from actual production. Figuring out a way to efficiently produce ethanol from corn is an R&D activity; tax exemptions are not. Figuring out a way to produce photovoltaic cells at $1 per watt is an R&D activity; using tax exemptions to sell $5/watt cells for $1/watt may just hide that we're wasting energy making the cells.
Maybe Minnick is smarter than he sounds and smarter than his website suggests. But so far, I am not persuaded.

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