By MARGARET TALEV
May 26, 2006
But when you are Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton - who won't say she's running for president in 2008 but is putting together the money and organization, but also is a divisive figure for the Democratic Party, and is trying to reconcile husband Bill Clinton's role, and can't talk about any of this because she has to act as if she's only concentrating on her Senate re-election campaign this year in New York - there are no ordinary speeches anymore on anything, and there haven't been for months.
At a breakfast speech Tuesday at the National Press Club, Clinton, 58, laid out a plan for adjusting U.S. energy policy to reduce foreign oil reliance and improve fuel efficiency. Her remarks covered everything from Saudi oil, to fuel economy in American cars, to coal, wind power and ethanol.
"This is probably a more wonk-ish speech than many of you anticipated," she said toward the end.
Clinton's speech came days before the Memorial Day weekend, which traditionally kicks off a season of long family car trips that could get more expensive with gas topping $3 a gallon. The speech also cut in line a day ahead of President Bush, who is scheduled to speak about energy Wednesday when he tours a facility in Pennsylvania.
Among the highlights of the senator's prepared remarks and responses in a question-and-answer session: The Clintons are shopping for the right fuel-efficient car. Sen. Clinton doesn't think oil companies did anything meritorious to deserve their record profits and supports legislation that creates penalties for price gouging. She wants to create a "strategic energy fund" into which oil companies would be required to pay a portion of their profits, for alternative energy development. She also wants to require ethanol-blend or flex-fuel pumps at half of all gas stations over the next decade and in all gas stations by 2025.
The Republican National Committee issued a release calling Clinton's energy plan a "unique balancing act involving partisanship, political pandering and yesterday's mistakes" that would mark a return to Jimmy Carter's unpopular 1970s policies. The RNC also criticized Clinton for opposing domestic oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The RNC also listed several instances in recent years in which Clinton cast votes against ethanol interests or spoke critically of tax, liability or subsidy proposals favored by the industry, and accused her of flip-flopping on her support for ethanol producers.
David Redlawsk, a political scientist at the University of Iowa, said Clinton's speech may serve a dual purpose: helping other Democrats blame Republican leaders for high gas prices heading into this year's midterm elections while endearing Clinton to voters in Iowa, whose caucuses are the first key test for presidential candidates every four years, and where corn production makes the ethanol industry an important part of the economy.
"We have what seems like dozens of candidates on both sides and they're all sort of jockeying with an eye to 'How well can we do in Iowa?'" Redlawsk said. "The issue of ethanol is an important one. There's an existing industry here with a decent number of jobs involved. It's becoming more and more important to the economic base here."
On Tuesday, Clinton said she favored government loan guarantees for the first billion gallons of commercial production capacity to speed the development of cellulosic ethanol. She also promoted 50-percent tax credits for gas station owners who install ethanol pumps.
Redlawsk said Republican presidential hopeful and Arizona Sen. John McCain skipped Iowa when he ran in 2000, "primarily because he was wrong on ethanol from the Iowa perspective. He was opposed to ethanol subsidies. He's been more nuanced recently. He doesn't talk about it that much and he clearly doesn't intend to skip Iowa this time around."
McCain, much as Clinton is to her party, is considered a Republican front-runner if he decides to run in 2008 but hasn't announced his plans yet. He said Tuesday that he continues to oppose government subsidies to the ethanol industry - and has made no secret of that on recent trips to Iowa - but that he does see more use for ethanol fuel blends than he once did.
"With oil at $10 a barrel, it doesn't make any sense," he said. "At $70 a barrel - anything over $40 a barrel - it makes a lot of sense."
McCain doubted the issue will be a decisive one in 2008. After all, President Bush, a former oil man himself, has said the nation must reduce reliance on foreign oil and move toward alternative energy sources including ethanol.
"I would think we would be moving forward with increased ethanol production and reducing our dependence on foreign oil by then," McCain said. "I think there's general agreement with the price of oil staying high, that ethanol is something that we have to pursue. So I don't know where the controversy would be - except maybe on subsidies, which I continue to oppose."
Clinton wouldn't take questions
about 2008: "We'll just have to let the future turn out
to be the future, whatever that might be."
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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