Since I missed the debate last night, thanks to my school schedule this year, I’ve had to content myself with the transcript and clips of key exchanges between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. This one, I believe, is one of the most telling. It features a well-rehearsed zinger from Romney on green energy subsidies — “you don’t pick winners and losers, you only pick losers” — but goes on to make a much larger point about the scope of energy subsidies under Obama:
ROMNEY: … to oil, to tax breaks, then companies going overseas. So let’s go through them one by one.
First of all, the Department of Energy has said the tax break for oil companies is $2.8 billion a year. And it’s actually an accounting treatment, as you know, that’s been in place for a hundred years. Now…
OBAMA: It’s time to end it.
ROMNEY: And in one year, you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world.
Now, I like green energy as well, but that’s about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives. And you say Exxon and Mobil. Actually, this $2.8 billion goes largely to small companies, to drilling operators and so forth.
ROMNEY: But, you know, if we get that tax rate from 35 percent down to 25 percent, why that $2.8 billion is on the table. Of course it’s on the table. That’s probably not going to survive you get that rate down to 25 percent.
But don’t forget, you put $90 billion, like 50 years’ worth of breaks, into — into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tester and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don’t just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers, all right? So this — this is not — this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy secure.
The second topic, which is you said you get a deduction for taking a plant overseas. Look, I’ve been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant.
ROMNEY: But — but the idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is simply not the case.
Romney destroys two canards of the Left: that corporations ship jobs overseas for tax breaks, and that Big Oil gets favorable treatment from government. Corporations ship jobs overseas because they compete in those markets as domestic producers, and because labor and regulatory burdens are cheaper. There isn’t a tax break that says “for every 1,000 jobs you export, you get $10 million in tax credits.”
Romney does even better with the green-energy subsidies, comparing them to Obama’s oft-used boogeymen Exxon and Mobile. The scale for green-energy subsidies is an order of magnitude larger than that of the tax breaks (not subsidies) oil producers get — and as Romney points out, many of them small businesses that produce oil on behalf of or to sell to Exxon, Mobile, and other large entities. Even if one considers tax breaks a subsidy, the amount of energy produced per subsidy dollar from oil far outstrips that of the green-energy industry. The latter can’t survive without direct government subsidies, and for decades have promised that mass-produced green energy is just around the corner. In the meantime, more than a few Obama green-energy subsidy companies have gone out of business and taken taxpayer funds with them.
Government doesn’t pick winners and losers, it only picks losers — because winners don’t need government subsidies to succeed in the first place. It’s not the role of government to intervene in those markets in the first place, which leads us to another good moment for Romney in the debate. Jim Lehrer asked him to define the role of government, and Romney spent two minutes on this solid response:
The role of government: Look behind us. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents.
First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means a military second to none. I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America’s military.
Second, in that line that says we are endowed by our creator with our rights, I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country. That statement also says that we are endowed by our creator with the right to pursue happiness as we choose. I interpret that as, one, making sure that those people who are less fortunate and can’t care for themselves are cared by — by one another.
We’re a nation that believes that we’re all children of the same god and we care for those that have difficulties, those that are elderly and have problems and challenges, those that are disabled. We care for them. And we — we look for discovery and innovation, all these things desired out of the American heart to provide the pursuit of happiness for our citizens.
But we also believe in maintaining for individuals the right to pursue their dreams and not to have the government substitute itself for the rights of free individuals. And what we’re seeing right now is, in my view, a — a trickle-down government approach, which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it’s not working.
And the proof of that is 23 million people out of work. The proof of that is 1 out of 6 people in poverty. The proof of that is we’ve gone from 32 million on food stamps to 47 million on food stamps. The proof of that is that 50 percent of college graduates this year can’t find work.
“Trickle-down government” is clearly another practiced zinger … and a pretty good one, too.