In Part I of this series on Obama’s newest adviser, fmr. Senator David L. Boren, I provided an overview of some of Boren’s activities specific to his “unity” efforts and some of his foreign policy “expertise.” (Part III will delve deeper into his foreign policy activities.)
This post, Part II, will explore Boren’s activities on the domestic front, with a focus on his political background followed by a detailed examination of how he almost single-handedly derailed President Clinton’s 1993 economic plan. The long-term implications of his activities in 1993 haunt us today and it should raise concerns about Obama’s ties to him now…because although these were “domestic” issues, the key parts of the plan involving energy morph into foreign policy concerns as well.
BOREN’S POLITICAL BACKGROUND
Lyle Boren, David L. Boren’s father, served in Congress from 1937 to 1947. He often broke with his party, notably by being against much of FDR’s New Deal. His son also served in the House (1967-1974) and then became governor of Oklahoma in 1975. He was in the U.S. Senate from 1979 until he resigned in 1994 to become President of the University of Oklahoma.
Boren was a member of Skull and Bones at Yale. He has been a member in the National Legal for the Public Interest along with Dick Cheney, Ken Starr and Ted Olson. Other organizations he was involved with include the Forum for International Policy (with Ken Lay of Enron also a member) and the conservative Democratic think tank known as the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (surprise! Bill Richardson is also listed as a member). (See here for more information on these and other organizations.)
Then there are his board positions, which have included Phillips Petroleum and later Conoco-Phillips (1995-2005; Torchmark, a life and health insurance company; and Hiland Partners, L.P., described as “a midstream energy partnership engaged in gathering, compressing, dehydrating, treating, processing and marketing natural gas, and fractionating, or separating natural gas liquids.”
It was during the “gasoline crisis” of the mid-1970s that “Boren rose to prominence on the national scene when he spoke out in favor of deregulation of natural gas prices at the federal level. As a result, Pres. Jimmy Carter appointed him chair of a task force of representatives from thirty states to study the problem,” according to the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.
Boren broke with his party by voting in favor of the Supreme Court nominations of Robert H. Bork and Clarence Thomas. (He has since said his vote for Judge Thomas was a mistake.)
Also in the mix is a reported “coming out” by Boren. According to W. Scott Thompson in his book “The Price of Achievement: Coming Out in Reagan Days” (1995), pp. 222-23, Boren “In August 1978, while a candidate for U.S. Senate, Oklahoma Governor Boren held a press conference to deny rumors of his homosexuality, taking an oath to that effect on a Holy Bible.” The bio in the Encyclopedia cited above makes no mention of this press conference, but does report on Boren’s first marriage and divorce and events surrounding his subsequent remarriage that sound a bit odd:
Shortly after graduating from law school, Boren married Janna Lou Little, the daughter of Oklahoma politician Reuel Little of Madill, who ran for governor as the candidate for the American Party in 1970. The couple had two children, Dan and Carrie, before the marriage ended in divorce in 1975. … Extraordinary security surrounded the marriage of Governor Boren to Pontotoc County Special District Judge Molly W. Shi on November 27, 1977. Only Boren’s family and immediate top-level staff members knew of the approaching wedding until hours before the event.
While there’s a distinctly “Republican air” to much of the above background, it’s his time in the Senate that should really raise the eyebrows of the “progressive” blogosphere which seems to be rather uninterested in where Obama’s advisers are coming from.
BOREN’S SENATE SHENANIGANS
A series of three stories in the New York Times from May and June of 1993 (and which are still available online) paints a clear picture of how Boren worked against President Clinton during that time. If you don’t have time to read this entire blog, at least read these three stories!
The first story by David E. Rosenbaum entitled “KEY FOE OF BUDGET SUGGESTS OPTIMISM OVER A COMPROMISE” was published on May 31, 1993 and illustrates how Boren worked with Republicans to force changes in the budget, notably on energy.
The second story by Clilfford Krauss entitled “SENATOR COMMANDS STAGE FAR BIGGER THAN OKLAHOMA BY DEFYING CLINTON” published on June 16, 1993 provides key insights into how Boren essentially broke his word to the President, chose Oklahoma interests over the interests of the country at large, and how he was criticized by many Democrats in the Senate for his teaming up with Republicans.
The third story also by David E. Rosenbaum entitled “SENATORS ON FINANCE PANEL REACH ACCORD ON A BUDGET WITH GAS TAX AND NEW CUTS” was published on June 17, 1993 reviews the final budget and the changes Clinton was forced to accept.
WHAT WERE THE ENERGY PROVISIONS THAT CLINTON/GORE INCLUDED IN THE ORIGINAL BUDGET?
In an article written for the Center for a New American Security by Josh Busby in January 2008 entitled “OVERCOMING POLITICAL BARRIERS to REFORM in ENERGY POLICY” the author writes:
In 1993, the Clinton administration came to power with ambitious goals to support core constituencies in the Democratic Party, including environmentalists. Vice President Al Gore’s book Earth in the Balance had just come out. In the book, Gore declared that “it ought to be possible to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a twenty-five year period.”1 Still fresh with optimism about its capability to move legislation through a
Democratic-controlled Congress, the Clinton administration believed that taxes on the energy content of fuel seemed like an attractive way to provide revenue for deficit reduction but also support environmental goals.
In February 1993, the Clinton administration announced as part of its budget proposal that it would impose a Btu (British thermal unit) tax on the energy content of fuel. Designed to raise $71.4 billion over five years, the Btu tax soon became a lightning rod for criticism. In the first proposal of the Btu tax, coal and natural gas were taxed at the same rate, even though coal is more polluting. This was a way to avoid incurring the wrath of West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd. The Clinton administration made a tactical mistake by then modifying the plan in April 1993 to further appease coal interests. Once this move had been made, other interests piled on in an effort to seek exemptions from the tax while the oil and gas industry opposed it outright. Even though the House voted in favor of the remnant of the Btu tax, influential Democratic senators like David Boren of Oklahoma and John Breaux of Louisiana vigorously opposed it, and the Clinton administration withdrew it before a vote.
Ultimately, the Btu tax was replaced with a modest 4.9 cents per gallon gasoline tax. After all was said and done, the Btu tax effort proved to be a bruising legislative fight, and the gas tax was a largely inconsequential incentive for fuel efficiency or conservation. Indeed, one of the main outcomes of the Btu fight was the Republicans were handed a wedge issue in the 1994 midterm elections in which House members who had voted in favor of the Btu tax were targeted for defeat. The failure to pass the Btu tax had a lasting impact on the White House’s enthusiasm for domestic measures that would directly affect energy prices, especially gasoline. An energy tax, favored by environmentalists, became the proverbial political “third rail.”
The Btu tax episode is illustrative of how the nature of the U.S. system makes it very difficult to achieve more comprehensive and coherent reform in energy policy. It is but one of many examples this country has seen over the past 25 years where interest groups across the political spectrum have mobilized to defeat far-reaching energy policy measures.
Boren held the critical swing vote and according to Rosenbaum’s May 31 story:
Until today, Mr. Boren, one of 11 Democrats on the committee, had been threatening to block the budget by joining the panel’s nine Republicans who have vowed to vote against the package. The Clinton plan was approved by the House of Representatives in a cliffhanger last week and indications were that it would face an even rougher road in the Senate.
But in a television interview, Mr. Boren said signals in the last few days that the White House and Mr. Moynihan would accept deeper spending cuts and modifications in the proposed energy tax “improved the chances by about 100 percent that we’re going to be able to work out an agreement.”
Mr. Moynihan, reached by telephone at his farm in upstate New York after the broadcast of the interview, said: “It is clear that Senator Boren sees that we have to have a deficit-reduction bill. We are going to have a bill more of the kind he has hoped for.”
But, the story continues:
Despite the favorable signs, the plan is not out of the woods yet for two important reasons.
First, as Mr. Boren said today, “the devil is in the details,” and the particulars of a compromise will be difficult to work out.
Second, Mr. Boren has been maddeningly fickle about where he stands, and he could change his mind overnight.
To force the issue, Boren:
joined forces with two moderate Republican Senators, John C. Danforth of Missouri and William S. Cohen of Maine, to offer an alternative plan that contained no energy tax and had much deeper spending cuts for Medicare and Social Security. … The alternative plan itself stands no chance of enactment. The word in the Capitol is that 20 Senators at most would vote for it. But it did provide somewhat of a basis for negotiations.
Mr. Boren has said he is not wedded to this alternative, although like many other lawmakers from energy-producing states he opposes the President’s proposed fuel tax because it would make products like petrochemicals much more expensive.
The story goes on to describe how Boren played games with Clinton.
Mr. Boren’s fickleness is a more complicated matter.
As soon as President Clinton announced his budget plan last February, Mr. Boren began to take shots at it. But 10 days later, he said in an interview that he supported the plan “unconditionally,” and added: “This is the best, most promising budget I’ve seen since I’ve been in Congress.”
Early in the spring, he promised Mr. Clinton and Mr. Moynihan he would support the plan in the Finance Committee, but over the last few weeks, he has demanded concessions in return for his vote. Publicly, he has demanded deeper spending cuts. But privately, he has demanded fewer cuts in agriculture programs, which are important in Oklahoma.
In the June 16 article by Clifford Krauss, the reactions to Boren’s maneuverings are fully described:
At home in Oklahoma, Senator David L. Boren was once portrayed by newspaper cartoonists as the Pillsbury Doughboy. In the cloakrooms of the Senate, he was dismissed as a glad-hander who craved approval more than power.
That was before Mr. Boren went on a diet and reassessed his career after the death of his father, an irreverent Democratic Congressman who rebelled against Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Then the Senator took on President Clinton’s economic package.
More than any other member of Congress, it was Mr. Boren who forced Mr. Clinton to abandon his broad tax on the energy content of fuels. First he threatened to withhold his swing vote on the Senate Finance Committee, and then, breaking an unspoken rule of Congressional conduct, he forcefully lobbied House Democrats to break with their leadership and President.
Further embarrassing the President and infuriating his Democratic colleagues, he is now threatening to withhold his vote unless they cut an additional $50 billion in spending in politically sensitive programs like Medicaid and Medicare. Like Paul Revere?
His critics — and there seem to be more every day — say he is a shill for big oil who is on an ego trip. Mr. Boren compares himself to Paul Revere, saying he is a man with a mission to save President Clinton from the Democratic Party’s liberal wing.
The 52-year-old Senator said in an interview on Monday that he expected to reach a compromise with the White House this week. But he added: “If we don’t, it wouldn’t be the end of the world because we would have to start over again, this time on a bipartisan basis. That could be better for the President and the country, though it would certainly mean an uncomfortable time for me.”
(Gee, it was all about him…sounds familiar)
By contrast, fellow Democrats accuse Mr. Boren of breaking his word to the President that he would stand by him. They note that he first enthusiastically backed Mr. Clinton’s budget, and even argued against farm-program spending cuts that would hurt his state. “People just wonder if a lot of the things he does is not for parochial interests,” said Representative Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of Brooklyn.
Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum, Democrat of Ohio, said: “There are many of us who are very upset with him. It’s obvious he would be more comfortable on the Republican side.”
Senator Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who is the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee, is so angry with Mr. Boren that he has discussed with several subcommittee chairmen ways of withholding money for military, farming and Indian-affairs programs in Oklahoma.
Mr. Boren concedes that he favors the interests of Oklahoma, and that he was too quick to speak in favor of Mr. Clinton’s economic proposals before he read the fine print. But he says the criticism comes mostly from liberals who are overly committed to spending programs that must be cut if the country is to regain its financial footing and competitiveness.
But Mr. Boren started burning bridges last month, on the day President Clinton tried to quell an uprising by House Democrats by dramatically traveling down Pennsylvania Avenue to plead with the Democratic caucus to stand by his program. Just as it appeared that Mr. Clinton had nipped the revolt in the bud, Mr. Boren threw a new obstacle in his way by announcing that a group of moderate Democrats and Republicans had designed an alternative budget plan with more budget cuts and fewer taxes.
The next day, Mr. Boren walked over to the House side of the Capitol to buck up moderate and conservative Democrats who were wavering under the intense White House lobbying. His tactics stood in stark contrast with those of Senator John B. Breaux of Louisiana, the other oil-state Finance Committee swing vote, who lobbied House members in favor of Mr. Clinton’s package, promising that changes would come later in the legislative process.
In the final article by Rosenbaum published on June 17, Boren “called the bill the senators approved “a great improvement” and added, “It keeps faith with the Democratic Party being on a new course, a centrist course.”
But the long-term effects on the country? The fuel tax would raise only a third of the original $72 billion over five years, far short of what the proposed energy tax would raise. The was little gained in terms of energy conservation and new measures to improve efficiency. To make up for the lost revenue and to put deficit reduction on track, the $50 billion cut in Medicare originally proposed by Clinton was increased by $19 billion. In addition, tax breaks for low-income workers were reduced as were some breaks for business aimed at stimulating investment.
So here we are in 2008, with Boren an adviser to Obama. Still convinced that Obama will be an agent of change?? Really??
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Filed under: Current Politics | Tagged: 1993 budget, Al Gore, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Btu tax, David L. Boren, energy tax, environment, gas industry, Medicare, natural gas deregulation, oil industry |