Friday, April 25, 2008

Boehner Column: "It’s Time for a Bipartisan Plan to Lower Fuel Costs"

We recently marked the two-year anniversary of congressional Democrats saying they had a “commonsense plan” to lower fuel costs. Problem is, that plan has never been revealed and gas prices are, on average, $1.25 per gallon higher than in 2006.

The rising costs are having severe effects not just on family budgets but on industries and local governments. The Richmond Palladium-Item reported on April 2 that surging gas prices forced that city’s police department to have fewer patrol cars. Some school districts in Bowling Green , KY , are looking at cutting bus routes and even, as reported by WKBO News, “going to four day school weeks” because fuel prices are so high.

In Texas , volunteer fire departments are reducing their equipment budgets to be able to afford gas, and the U.S. Department of the Interior recently noted that the trucking industry is poised to spend $135 billion on fuel this year – a $23 million increase from 2007.

To put the true extent of this into perspective, consider that the average American family consumes 1,143 gallons of fuel per year, according to the Energy Information Administration. Based on the $2.33 price per gallon of gasoline when the Democrats took control of Congress on January 4, 2007, a family would have spent $2,663 per year on gas. But based on today’s price – a whopping $3.56 per gallon – that same family would spend about $4,069 per year – that’s $1,406 less for summer vacations… $1,406 less for necessities like food and clothes… and $1,406 less for retirement or college savings.

Memorial Day weekend – the traditional start of summer travel season – is just around the corner. Until we begin to address our problems with regard to domestic supply, we will remain at the mercy of foreign fuel suppliers and you will continue to pay higher and higher costs. A recent study by Canadian bank CIBC states that the price of oil is expected to soar to $225 a barrel by 2012 as supplies tighten. The cost of a barrel currently hovers around $120.

Enough is enough. Empty rhetoric and political promises have done absolutely nothing to lower fuel costs. So far in the 110th Congress, not one energy bill brought to a vote in the U.S. House has contained a single watt or gallon of new domestic energy, despite assurances from Democratic leaders that they have a “commonsense plan.” It’s time to see that plan. But if there is no such blueprint that will take real action to reduce costs without raising taxes, then it’s high time they stop playing partisan games and work with House Republicans to develop a plan that will work.

The best way to bring down prices is by increasing all forms of energy – such as biofuels and nuclear – and especially by increasing our domestic supply of oil in an environmentally responsible way. The U.S. Geological Survey recently announced that the Bakken Shale that stretches across Montana and North Dakota may hold as much as 3.7 billion barrels of oil. The irony is that we have plenty of oil right here at home – more than 10 billion barrels in Alaska , 30 billion barrels offshore and an incredible 1.3 trillion barrels in the Rocky Mountains . We just can’t go after it because of extreme environmental regulations.

We can – and we must – find a balance between being responsible stewards of the environment while producing our own energy. In the midst of a slowing economy, falling home values and soaring costs of living, these fuel costs are a heavy premium for working families, particularly those in suburban and rural communities who are paying more and more just to drive to work each day. Isn’t it time for a bipartisan, comprehensive plan to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, lower costs here at home and invest in all forms of energy to provide relief to working families, create American jobs and grow our economy?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Boehner Column: "Fuel Prices Rising, Taxes Hikes Threatened . No Relief in Sight From Wasteful Washington Spenders"

It’s possible that by the time you read this column, the federal government will have already cashed the check you wrote for your 2007 taxes. And if you think that was bad, wait until you see how big a check you may write very soon if Congress passes all the tax hikes it’s threatening.

Three times in one recent week, the Democratic-led U.S. House refused to side with taxpayers, instead choosing to continue their tax-and-spend ways. Using a proposal introduced by my colleague, Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan , House Republicans forced three votes on the House Floor to try to stop the largest tax hike in American history. Rep. Walberg’s bill, the Tax Increase Prevention Act, would stop the $683 billion tax increase passed by Democrats in March as part of their Fiscal Year 2009 budget proposal.

Stopping this massive tax hike will help every American taxpayer, including low- and middle-class families, working parents with children and seniors. With record-high gas prices, rising food costs and declining home values, the last thing we need and the last thing our economy needs is a tax increase.

The tax relief enacted previously by House Republicans led to a robust economy, low unemployment and increased savings for working families. But the Democrats’ budget proposal assumed that this tax relief will expire, sending tax rates soaring: personal income taxes will go up, the child tax credit will be slashed in half, the marriage penalty will be re-introduced, the death tax resurrected, taxes on dividends and investments will go up, and even seniors will see their retirement savings taxed at higher rates.

One of the hardest things for middle-class families right now is they can’t seem to catch a break. In today’s economy, it’s getting harder and harder to save, especially with every spare dollar seeming to go to rising fuel costs. And another week has gone by without hearing from Democrats what their plan is to lower gas prices, as they promised two years ago. Instead, gas prices have hit a nationwide average of $3.44 per gallon, according to AAA. Experts are predicting that prices will spike even higher in May, and the summer driving season isn’t even upon us yet.

The harsh reality is that since January 2007, gas prices have increased so much that motorists are paying $1.11 more per gallon to fill up than they were before the beginning of last year. The Associated Press recently reported that fuel costs “appear poised to resume their seemingly endless trek toward a record high milestone of an average $3.50 a gallon. Forecasters call for gas to peak as high as $3.65 within a month.”

Our working families deserve better than this.

We are too dependent on foreign oil. We must increase domestic production by building more refineries and opening up areas of the country to exploration in an environmentally-safe and responsible manner. At the same time, we must commit ourselves to develop long-term energy alternatives. The benefits of expanding our energy portfolio are not just in reducing prices and reducing our dependency on foreign oil but increasing opportunities for new family-wage jobs and growing American industries.

We need to advance commonsense, comprehensive energy solutions that increase American supplies in all forms. Instead, we’re stuck with bad ideas like a 55-cent increase in the federal gas tax and raising other taxes to pay for wasteful Washington spending while middle-class families struggle to make ends meet. It’s time to put aside political maneuvering and work together to bring relief to working families tired of Washington double-speak and empty rhetoric.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Boehner Column: "Killing Colombia Free Trade Agreement Maintains Economically Dangerous Status Quo"

It was bad news for our region recently when the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which would have created good jobs for Ohio and opened new markets for Ohio farm exports, was killed by political gamesmanship in Congress. In refusing to bring this agreement before the House for a vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has signaled that she puts the concerns of big labor bosses above those of Ohio ’s farmers and working families.

Agriculture is the backbone of the economy here in the 8th Congressional District. We rely not only on current markets to move our products but also on expanding to new ones. Powerful labor bosses in Washington , however, oppose the Colombia trade agreement. They contributed huge sums of money to the Democratic Party in 2006. They’ve pledged to pump even larger amounts into the Party’s coffers in 2008. And in exchange, they got what they wanted on the Colombia trade deal: it was unceremoniously killed by the Democratic Speaker of the House.

Democratic leaders’ political maneuvering clearly tells our trading partners, allies and our own workers that catering to special interests is more important than creating jobs and helping our economy grow.

For the past 15 months, Administration officials have negotiated with Congressional leaders to find a responsible compromise on a trade agreement that would let U.S. goods enter an important South American market virtually tariff-free. Current rates vary, but U.S. cars going into Colombia face a 35 percent tariff; furniture is hit with a 20 percent tariff; and high-quality U.S. beef is socked with an 80 percent tariff. Compare that to Colombian goods, which since 1991 have enjoyed almost complete duty-free access to our markets.

In February, the House voted to extend the Andean Free Trade Preferences Agreement that allowed Colombian goods to continue entering the U.S. virtually tariff-free while maintaining the unfair status quo on our exports. The intent of the Colombian agreement was to eliminate the barriers on our goods entering that country, which would lead to more jobs here in Ohio and throughout the country as businesses would no longer need to worry about meeting stiff tariff rates.

In addition to being a valuable potential trading partner, Colombia is America ’s leading democratic ally in South America . It has waged a long and so-far successful battle against drug traffickers and terrorists that seek to destroy its government and establish a kind of Communist narco-state. Efforts to destabilize Colombia ’s government are supported by leftist Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, a committed ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has repeatedly said that the best help America can provide against Colombia ’s adversaries – who are our adversaries – is to pass the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

President Uribe was certainly not alone in encouraging us to pass this important agreement. Many valuable international partners expressed a desire to see Congress take swift action on the agreement and send it to the President for his signature, arguing it would send an overt signal of our shared desire to see stability and democracy in Latin America . Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper pointedly addressed security concerns in a speech last September before the Council on Foreign Relations. “If the U.S. turns its back on its friends in Colombia , this will set back our cause far more than any Latin American dictator could hope to achieve,” he said. In fact, an Investor’s Business Daily editorial grimly notes that the political maneuver used to kill this agreement was being called the “Chavez Rule” in the Latin America media.

Indeed, having seen the political games that just played out, how can any nation trust that future trade agreements made with the United States will not meet the same fate? Speaker Pelosi’s unfortunate decision is likely to wreak havoc on our international trade commitments and on future attempts to open new markets for goods produced by American farmers and producers.

A complaint that frequently surfaced among those seeking to kill this agreement was that the administration allegedly did not consult with congressional leaders. Let me set the record straight on that. There have been hundreds of meetings over the last 15 months in which the administration reached out to the Democratic leadership in Congress in hopes of reaching mutual agreement on how and when the treaty should be considered. Labor and environmental standards identical to those included at the behest of Democratic leaders in the Peru Free Trade Agreement that the House approved in February were written into the Colombian agreement. There were also serious conversations between the administration and the Speaker of the House specifically over the past six to eight weeks.

Despite all of this, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement become another in a long list of legislative victims of election-year political gamesmanship. What could be more fair to our workers than to provide access for our goods to important new markets in South America virtually tariff-free? Our global competitors are already working to expand their exports to Colombia through trade agreements. By killing our agreement with Colombia , Democratic leaders sacrificed more than 200 years of international credibility for the shallowest possible short-term gain. This trade agreement was good for our farmers, ranchers, small business owners and other American exporters who will now continue under an unfair and economically dangerous status quo.

Boehner represents Ohio ’s 8th District, which includes all of Darke, Miami and Preble counties, most of Butler and Mercer counties, and the northeastern corner of Montgomery County . He was first elected to Congress in 1990.