WASHINGTON — Taxpayer watchdog groups and some conservative organizations are lining up against a bill backed by T. Boone Pickens to boost the natural gas vehicle industry, protesting more government preferences in the energy sector.
Pressure from the outside groups may be having an effect: Four U.S. House members who were co-sponsoring the bill written by Oklahoma Reps. John Sullivan and Dan Boren withdrew their support in May.
But Sullivan, R-Tulsa, said he has added co-sponsors recently and that he mentioned the bill to President Barack Obama on Wednesday at a White House meeting with House Republicans. He said Obama told him, “Let's get it done.”
“It's the only energy bill in Congress that can pass the House and the Senate and be signed by the president,” Sullivan said.
The legislation, which now has 188 cosponsors, would offer $5 billion in tax credits over five years to boost the production and sale of natural gas vehicles. Sullivan said some of the groups that oppose it now supported previous versions that were more expansive.
The conflict over the bill's proposed tax credits comes at a time when many in Congress are calling for an overhaul of the tax code to eliminate the myriad special breaks and subsidies in favor of lower overall rates. Moreover, Republican lawmakers are focused on cutting deficits, and the bill's tax credits would mean $1 billion less per year in revenue.
‘A bad bill'
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, sent a letter to lawmakers last month urging them to oppose the NatGas Act.
“Americans for Tax Reform believes that an energy market which most benefits consumers is one largely absent of government intervention,” Norquist wrote.
On Wednesday, representatives of Taxpayers for Common Sense, the National Taxpayers Union, the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute expressed opposition to the bill.
Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the group is working to peel away support for the legislation. Alexander called it “a bad bill that would create more subsidies at a time when we have incredible fiscal restraints.”
Jack Spencer, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, called the bill's tax credits “a massive subsidy” and said manufacturers and consumers should determine the market for natural gas vehicles.
Boren, D-Muskogee, said, “It is easy for special interest groups to stand on the sidelines and pick their own winners and losers in the energy debate by drafting letters to the media.
“But until they offer a real and viable plan that promotes domestic energy independence, helps spur job creation and provides a cheaper and cleaner alternative to traditional fuel sources, we cannot allow them to become a distraction to this important effort.”
Jay Rosser, a spokesman for Pickens, said conservatives should embrace the proposal because it addresses two of their core issues — national security and fiscal responsibility — by reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
“This isn't about picking transportation fuel winners,” Rosser said. “It's about picking national security over terrorism and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).”