The wailing and gnashing of teeth in American industry over President Bush's clean-air proposals is more passionate and pervasive than any I've heard in 20 years of following environmental legislation. It was pure shock, the sudden realization that none of industry's best arguments and most elaborate presentations to the President did any good. Nor did the support of most of Bush's White House team. OMB Director Dick Darman got the press spotlight for his futile attempts to impress George Bush with the zany cost/benefit ratios of these plans to purify tailpipes and smokestacks. There are some elements of the plan, we hear, that run as high as $100,000 per ton against standard EPA ceiling of $2,000 per ton. But as far as I can tell almost the entire senior staff was also astonished at the colossal pile of mandated costs the President has hurled at American business, far greater than anything they could have imagined of Michael Dukakis. EPA Director William K. Reilly took the bows for the alternative fuel decision the Energy Department figures will cost $40 billion. But I'm told even Reilly figured he'd be happy to get a pilot plant in the package, given the awesome environmental problems posed by methanol, let alone the ultimate cost to the consumer. It's true that White House counsel Boyden Gray is almost religious in his methanol worship, making sure he got fellow devotees spotted at EPA under Reilly. But we can't stick this on Boyden when he had arrayed against him Vice President Quayle, John Sununu, Michael Boskin, and on down the line. This is pure early Bush, the Connecticut Bush, the Yale Bush confusing conservationism with environmentalism. The environmentalist lobby predictably put out statements that Bush did not go far enough, but I heard of astonishment from some of them at the breadth of his proposals.
An auto executive, limp with frustration, told me the industry can only now hope that the ideas crash of their own weight and impracticality. An oil-industry executive with years of experience in dealing with Beltway politics ran up and down a register of hysteria in a sputtering telephone call. He felt they'd been jollied along in the process and then sandbagged. "I'm sick over this, just sick. The ramifications on the economy are likely to be far worse than anything we'd get from the budget or taxes."
Now we'll see what the industry PACs will get for the millions they've pumped into the re-election campaigns of congressional Democrats. Surely some of these proposals will be scaled back, but one never knows. A summit meeting of industrialists is already being arranged for next week in Washington, to assess damage and figure out some sort of united front. There are already accusations within industry groups-about sellouts and deals, individual companies and trade associations worrying the environmental lobby can have a picnic playing one off against the other on Capitol Hill, knowing the White House is in the bag.
Well, as we've been saying, there's a Texas Bush and a Yankee Bush, a supply-side Bush and a Keynesian Bush, an entrepreneurial Bush and a corporativist Bush. We've been pleasantly surprised to find him a no-holds-barred, capital-gains-cut Growth Bush. Now we find a no-holds-barred environmentalist Bush.
Somehow it will all sort itself out. If the Democrats give Bush everything he's asked for, the voters will have no choice but to elect more Republicans to Congress to undo the damage, as they did in 1966 after two years of manic Great Society legislation by a kinder and gentler LBJ and a liberal Democratic Congress. In fact, it was in that big 1966 GOP class that young George Bush was elected as a freshman Republican from Houston. Washington is getting more interesting by the minute.