Did Sen. Mary Landrieu commit political suicide with remarks recently published about her willingness to end tax breaks for oil companies?
The Democrat has walked, successfully to date, a fine line in staying on office in a state whose people increasingly are willing to vote on this basis of ideology, the majority of whose views poorly fit her own expressed views. To date, she has sustained a myth that she is a moderate Democrat when in fact she votes very much to the left: her lifetime American Conservative Union voting record (where a score of 100 equates to a perfect conservative voting record) is barely above 20.
Yet she has won three elections and his gunning for a fourth, partly because she has become expert at peeling off just enough support from those whose interests she typically votes against, but on the most salient issues to them she sometimes backs them. One is the oil industry, where historically she has fought attempts to increase the tax burden on the industry, one understandably important to Louisiana.
It’s largely a myth that oil companies get any kind of special treatment in the tax code, and relative to subsidization in the energy sector, the industry gets far less proportionally than does renewable energy. Yet a central tenet of Democrat Pres. Barack Obama’s plan to finance dramatically higher levels of spending on social programs he has tried while in office to institutionalize rests on making carbon-based energy suppliers pay much more in taxes.
One might expect Landrieu to stay consistent on this issue, considering she is facing in 2014 the least favorable electoral environment surrounding her three terms. Not only does it appear she will compete with the highest-quality challengers she ever has, but also, rather than having as on two occasions a presidential top of the ticket taking advantage of favorable conditions to help pull her to narrow victories (1996 and 2008) or be on the advantaged side of a midterm election (2002, where the party of the president disproportionately does worse all other things equal, with the White House then held by the GOP), in 2014 she will be on the wrong side of the midterm tendency, exacerbated by the fact historically candidates of the party of the president in a sixth year of that presidency do even worse at the ballot box.
Add to that, from the perspective of the Louisiana public, she flubbed the biggest vote of her career by being the crucial vote to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that promises higher taxes, more health care expenses, and worse outcomes. That alone will require major fence-repairing with the Louisiana electorate which solidly opposes it, so one would figure she would be especially attentive in making sure she creates plenty of political cover with other issues to pick off enough support.
Instead, she seemed to have let her ideological slip show. In an interview with a moderately leftist outlet on tax reform, Landrieu confirmed what she almost off-handedly had remarked in comments after she had voted against two bills almost two weeks ago that would have delayed automatic spending cuts, where she had rejected the Republican alternative because it “refused to raise any additional revenue.” Bad enough that she already had supported a New Year’s Day tax hike (both on the wealthier and on payroll taxes workers pay), but here she signals a desire to go after more revenue contrary to majority opinion in the state that government spends too much that increases only fuel.
But then she made matters worse by fingering the oil industry as a place she would go after to squeeze extra revenues. “This is the world – no one’s going to want to lose their tax breaks. But if you do it fairly, I think people might grumble and complain, but you know what … everybody has to give up a little to get to where we’re going,” she said in explaining her view.
The problem, of course, is that the Louisiana majority does not want to go where she wants. With vestiges of populism still ingrained into the state’s political culture, Landrieu might think she can get enough class warfare mileage out of these sentiments to stay in office. Except now that she has admitted to a desire to launch warfare on an industry that, in a bit of misperception and wishful thinking, has seen her as its defender – which includes both big donors willing in the past to give to her campaign to acquire protection and lower socioeconomic status workers who could lose jobs if petroleum gets treated differentially.
Obama, naturally, wants this punitive policy in order to pursue a mistaken and misbegotten fantasy where carbon-based energy sources are treated as a scourge while he wastes billions on green energy scams. Landrieu appears to have swallowed this hook, line, and sinker now, removing an avenue of support for her and giving opponents yet another free lane to the basket – her raising costs on health care, raising income taxes to sustain bloated government, and now preferring that bloated government over an important Louisiana industry.
Why did she do it? Has she just become drunk on the left’s optimistically fundamental misreading of the political situation (no party can claim any kind of ideological mandate when its opposition controls free and clear half of all states’ governments while it can manage just a quarter of that, and at the national level when it wins elections only when it is able to mobilize sufficient numbers of low information, low interest voters on the basis of the opposition’s fumbling on communication and turnout)? Or, after three decades in elective office, has the necessity for putting on pretense become too much of a burden? Regardless, she has teed up an issue for opponents to slam away that makes her difficult path to reelection now even more treacherous.