The Republican leadership in Washington seems to be unable to get things right these days, particularly on the issue of energy. With gas prices reaching record highs, Americans are beginning to realize that the comprehensive energy plan rammed through the Republican Congress last year was wholly ineffective, and now The New York Times' duo of Carl Hulse and David D. Kirkpatrick report that even Republican voters see the recent energy proposal by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for what it really is -- a political stunt.
The Senate Republican plan to mail $100 checks to voters to ease the burden of high gasoline prices is eliciting more scorn than gratitude from the very people it was intended to help.
Aides for several Republican senators reported a surge of calls and e-mail messages from constituents ridiculing the rebate as a paltry and transparent effort to pander to voters before the midterm elections in November.
"The conservatives think it is socialist bunk, and the liberals think it is conservative trickery," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, pointing out that the criticism was coming from across the ideological spectrum.
Angry constituents have asked, "Do you think we are prostitutes? Do you think you can buy us?" said another Republican senator's aide, who was granted anonymity to openly discuss the feedback because the senator had supported the plan.
Conservative talk radio hosts have been particularly vocal. "What kind of insult is this?" Rush Limbaugh asked on his radio program on Friday. "Instead of buying us off and treating us like we're a bunch of whores, just solve the problem." In commentary on Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume called the idea "silly."
With President Bush increasingly unpopular -- even among Republican voters -- this is no time for the GOP's congressional leadership to piss off their base with cynical and plain stupid policies. The GOP simply cannot afford for loyal Republican voters to stay home on election day because they think their leadership in Washington are incompetent and out of touch, but with every proposal like this one out of Frist's office more conservative voters become weary of their natural party.
Not only is the Republican energy plan cooked up by Senator Frist bad politics, it's also bad policy. As Daniel Gross explained on Slate.com this week, "taxpayers would borrow money from foreigners like the Saudis in order to send $100 checks to Americans so they can buy more gas from foreigners like the Saudis."
Look, there are real ways that energy prices can come down -- or at least increase around the rate of inflation -- in the long-term, including greatly increasing funds for mass transit (including a substantial investment in American commuter rail to help AMTRAK catch up to its European and Japanese counterparts); significantly boosting funds for the investigation of alernative forms of energy (including, perhaps, the Fischer-Tropsch process forwarded by Montana's Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer); and increasing fuel-efficiency standards across the board to make the cars Americans drive use less gasoline.
I have a feeling that the American people understand that it will be difficult, but entirely possible, for America to achieve energy-independence (or something close to it) within the next couple of decades. Moreover, I'd imagine that the American people expect their leadership in Washington -- whether it be Republican or Democratic -- to come up with a real plan to drastically decrease our dependence on Middle East oil. And if rebates and drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Reserve are all the Republican inside the Belway can come up with while Democrats articulate a clear plan to address both the short-term and long-term problems facing America's energy supply, the American people -- including voters normally aligned with the GOP -- will start looking for alternative leadership in the form of the Democratic Party.