How Btu Tax Became The But Tax

Posted: June 09, 1993

What ever happened to the BTU tax? It's probably in the same hiding place where Bill Clinton stashed his political capital.

Yesterday, Clinton traveled a safe distance away from his onetime defensible energy tax, then gingerly pressed the detonator.

He's not into playing "the name game," Clinton said. He wants an energy tax, but it doesn't have to be called a BTU tax - it doesn't even have to be based on the energy content of fuels, which is what British Thermal Unit stands for.

Trust Lloyd Bentsen and Leon Panetta, urged the president. They'll come up with something. And Clinton will back it 1,000 percent.

It's just as well. Back in February, when the BTU tax was proposed, it was seen as the fairest way to tax energy, it would raise the most money and could have a positive impact on the environment.

Since it was based on the British Thermal Unit, a measurement of energy, it would encourage consumers to use fuels which were more energy-efficient, and that would help the environment.

Energy taxes do put a strain on the middle class and the poor, but since the BTU tax wasn't a flat percentage like a sales tax, it would alleviate some of that burden.

Opponents pounced. First, they felt betrayed, since they had understood there was to be no math or science in the budget process. Second, they felt betrayed since they had understood the word "sacrifice" would not apply to them or their constituents.

Everything was going according to the way you would expect, with the usual suspects raising the usual complaints, but the American people telling pollsters they thought President Clinton's budget plan was fair, and doable.

Then, President Clinton, who had pleaded so eloquently to Americans to treat his budget (and its BTU tax) as a package, and not to pick it apart, suddenly signaled that it would be all right to do just that.

So the BTU tax became the BUT tax.

The government would tax energy, BUT not heating for New Englanders, BUT not hydropower, BUT not Western coal, BUT not ethanol, BUT not fuel used on farms or other industries. And now, it seems, the president is resigned to taxing energy, BUT not as much or as fairly as it should be taxed.

Yet, even with the basics gone, Clinton's budget will still have a tax on energy - and the rest of the budget that the compromise enables will include many important deficit-reducing elements.

At this point, we'll never know what might have happened had the president pressed forward past the BUTs.

But we suspect that, by another name, the outcome will not smell as sweet.

ONE MAN'S FAMILY

After what seemed like geological eras of testimony, containing enough embarrassment to drive entire nations into hiding, the judge has ruled in the child custody case of our century.

He decided the Woody Allen is not a good father, and not much of a homo sapiens either.

Then the judge ordered the formerly lovable Allen to pay for the squadrons of his and her attorneys who had assisted in the providing of evidence that Allen is right there with Ted Bundy on the scale of human worth, albeit somewhat funnier than Bundy.

The judge ruled that the only motherly dereliction he could find in Mia Farrow, thoroughly estranged Allen Companion, was in her being involved with the whiny geek in the first place.

This is an action Allen brought. His lawyers promise he will fight on, appealing and protecting his parental rights to children with whom he seems barely acquainted (with the possible exception of the one he has chosen to be his paramour).

This does not seem to be a good idea, given the way this trial ended.

The next judge might have him shot.

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