Saving the planet is important, but not so important that it can interfere with typical Washington politics.
The nearly $2 trillion “Build Back Better” spending package sought by President Joe Biden to fundamentally transform the U.S. economy — but only half as transformed as under Biden’s original $4 trillion package — contains lots of popular provisions. Some are especially popular with interest groups that have supported Biden throughout his career, such as labor unions.
Among the many programs contained in the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink bill now languishing in Congress are some intended to cut U.S. carbon emissions and help curb global warming. That includes incentives meant to speed the adoption of electric vehicles.
Full disclosure: The bill also includes a payroll tax credit that would benefit local news outlets like this one, but the Biden administration shouldn’t think that will win it a blanket endorsement for every proposal in its mammoth legislation.
“If enacted, the bill would provide a $7,500 tax credit for consumers who buy electric vehicles through 2026,” reports The Associated Press. “Beginning the following year, only purchases of electric vehicles made in the U.S. qualify for the credit. The base credit goes up by $4,500 if the vehicle is made at a U.S. plant that operates under a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement. Only auto plants owned by General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV qualify.”
“I want those jobs here in Michigan, not halfway around the globe,” Biden said when visiting a United Auto Workers job training center last month.
When it comes to trade, Biden shares many of the same America First impulses as his predecessor, even if it means Americans pay more for the goods they buy. But it’s not only overseas auto plants that could be at a competitive disadvantage thanks to the unequal tax credits. Non-union American plants and their workers would be, too.
That would include many foreign-owned plants in the South, where most states, including Alabama, have right-to-work laws that curb union power, and where employees have rebuffed numerous attempts by unions to organize their factories.
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin spoke against the tax-credit provision when visiting a Toyota plant in his home state last week, Automotive News reported. The trade publication quoted Manchin as saying that in a capitalistic economy, “you let the product speak for itself, and hopefully, we’ll get that, that’ll be corrected.”
As a must-have vote in the 50-50 Senate, Manchin’s opinion carries a lot of weight. Biden has no margin for error if he wants to get his transformative bill passed.
Our elected leaders tell us global warming is an existential threat, but they don’t act like it is when they subordinate it to paying back their supporters. And President Biden is showing that for all his talk about remaking the economy for the future, his way of thinking is fundamentally rooted in the past. That’s another thing he has in common with his predecessor. Biden may say the right words about broadband and clean energy, but his vision of America is an idealized post-World War II environment of big corporations and big labor advancing hand-in-hand.
That America, however, to the extent it ever really existed, isn’t nimble enough, flexible enough or entrepreneurial enough to compete in a 21st century global economy in which most of the rest of the world is no longer rebuilding war-ravaged economies or shackled by the chains of communism.
Tax credits for electric vehicles are fine, but they shouldn’t be used to pick winners and losers, with the winners just happening to be groups that fill the Democrats’ campaign coffers in states that vote for Team Blue. Biden talks a lot about fairness, and he can start by leveling his own playing field.