Like most everyone else, Congress will return from its summer vacation in the coming week.
When last in session, the legislative branch of the government was expending most of its efforts putting together the pension reform bill and refusing to reach any compromise on the future of the estate tax. With November elections now visible on the horizon, most of Washington's punditry is forecasting very little by way of bold lawmaking.
That might explain why the issues that do rate a political sound bite -- even when the problem doesn't actually offer itself up to an easy solution -- seem all the more interesting.
In many election races this fall, it's been environmental issues in particular seemingly occupying an unusually prominent position. Sure, there had been talk earlier this summer from Congress of placing a windfall tax on the especially inflated profits made by the largest oil companies in the last year -- talk that always seemed far from producing actual action.
Look no further than California, where Newsweek noted in a recent article that 87 percent of voters say that environmental issues matter in choosing a candidate. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent on the California Clean Air Campaign, a ballot measure to impose a wellhead tax on oil companies operating in California and divert the money -- an estimated $4 billion -- to finance alternative-energy development. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has already said he will oppose the measure, while the Democratic challenger, State Treasurer Phil Angelides, is backing the initiative.
Not that Schwarzenegger isn't touting his green record, he's put away his Hummers in favor of campaigning around the state in hybrid vehicles (the tax credits for which the Internal Revenue Service continues to keep an especially close eye on), and his ads tout a variety of environmental accomplishments -- a 25 million-acre land conservancy in the Sierras, a solar-roof initiative and new statewide energy-efficiency standards.
But in California, as in Washington, it remains to be seen when politicians will begin putting the money where their mouths so often are. The previous President Bush, he of "Read my lips, no new taxes" infamy, undoubtedly learned that tax talk can come back to haunt a candidate, even when history has shown such a stance change resulted in a later economic boon.
For the most part, being an environmentally-friendly candidate is proving to be a savvy move into the hearts of mainstream voters (a shift which Al Gore was able to capitalize on at the box office, if not the ballot box, with his global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth"). But for the most part in politics, where ear-catching campaign contributions tend to come from the big conglomerates, it remains to be seen how being a "green candidate" translates into legislative initiatives. The fate of California's ballot question, and a tighter-than-expected governoral race, could become the case study that illustrates that the environment is now holding its own when a citizen reaches to pull the lever. Votes and taxes will always be tied together, but in one shape or another -- whether it be oil or the environment -- voters seem to have another meaningful stance upon which to weigh their candidates.
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