Senator on Climate Change: ‘Put an International Price on Carbon’

Democratic Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse called for an international price on carbon as a way to combat climate change, which he said is the most important issue in need of bipartisan support in Congress.

“The thing that’s going to hit us in the long run is going to be climate change and right now it’s an issue that Republicans just haven’t been able to deal with at all. And I hope that as the public moves and as the evidence builds up that they will find a way to free themselves to deal with it because we badly, badly need to take action. The world is looking to us and the consequences if we get it wrong will not be good for a nation that leads by the power of its example,” said Whitehouse after being recognized at the Friends of National Service Awards reception held by Voices for National Service.

President Obama pledged $3 billion in aid for an international fund to help developing countries fight climate change.

Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, said the U.S. must do more to get other nations to act.

“I think that the best solution and the most economically effective solution is to put an international price on carbon so that the markets can work correctly and there’s not this huge built-in subsidy to the polluting fuels. Getting there is going to require U.S. leadership and I hope a general agreement can be reached this winter in Paris,” he said.

Whitehouse was asked if a price on carbon could hurt the economy in any way.

“Well, if the money were just mailed away to Mars, yeah, that would probably hurt the economy. But if you put the money straight back into the economy through lower tax rates particularly, then the economy has the same amount of money and I think what you would find is the tax reductions spurred activity and the money that went back to regular workers was spent in the economy more quickly than extra returns to these big multinational corporations,” he responded.

“So, I would think that a proper, what they call revenue-neutral carbon fee, would actually kick up economic activity and be a net plus and there’s a fair amount of, even very conservative economic analysis, to support that view.”

The former attorney general of Rhode Island also addressed the criticism of President Obama not labeling those responsible for recent terrorist attacks in Paris Islamic extremists.

Referring to a terrorist attack at a Kosher grocery store in Paris, Obama recently said it is “entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you've got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”

Whitehouse said there are a lot of people who leap to criticize an either poor word choice or one that they misunderstand.

“I assume that the president meant random rather than in the sense of persistent. Despite the calls for international jihad, we’ve had quite few events in a world of billions of people and in that sense I think it was random, meaning in the sense of unusual,” he said.

“Clearly, the intent of the murderers in that crime was to punish, was to murder those folks to vindicate a jihadi point of view so I don’t think in that sense it was a random crime. But I think we should calm down a little bit about trying to attack each other over word choices where there are multiple meanings that it could be susceptible of, but that’s radio talk shows and Fox News these days,” Whitehouse added.

Obama has asked Congress for authorization for the use of military force against ISIS. Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran, who was also honored at the reception for national service, said Obama is “unwilling to define who the enemy is” and questioned whether the administration has a strategy.

“How do I have any sense that the president has a strategy to defeat terrorism when in the past he’s been unwilling to call somebody a terrorist and now he’s unwilling to – what he says is it’s random, the fact that four Jews were killed is random – that suggests to me that the president has no strategy on how to defeat the enemy,” he said.

Moran was asked what issue he would like to see both parties solve in Congress.

“What I think is missing in this Senate is an understanding and a willingness to fight the president on his continual encroachment upon the Constitution and upon the right of the legislature to make legislative decisions,” he said. “Where are the statesmen and women who seemed to be in the Congresses of the past that said regardless of whether they were a Democrat or Republican, regardless of whether the president was a Democrat or Republican, said this is not right?”

Moran specifically identified Obama’s executive action on illegal immigration and Obamacare as examples.

“The president has stepped on the Constitution time and time again,” he said.