April 15, 2014

Sometimes a leader needs to deliver a message that discomforts his political and ideological allies. Think Nixon and China or even Bill Clinton and Sister Souljah.

But you would be mistaken to think Iowa's GOP Rep. Steve King falls into this category when it comes to wind energy and King's allies in the conservative movement.

King spoke Saturday at the Freedom Summit in Manchester, N.H., an event sponsored by Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United.

The latter group, Citizens United, is best known for opposing limits on campaign spending, assorted battles with the IRS and opposition to Obamacare.

Americans for Prosperity offers a hard-right perspective on a range of economic-policy issues and is best known as the group the Koch brothers built.

It's also a group that fiercely opposes the wind-energy tax credit and support for renewable fuels like ethanol, two of the few areas where King parts company with the Brothers Koch.

King delivered a red-meat speech on Saturday that received an enthusiastic response from a packed conference center in Manchester.

He charged that President Obama has "weaponized" the IRS against the administration's political enemies on the right and is intentionally trying to make Americans more reliant on the government, while simultaneously making the U.S. government more reliant on the Chinese.

It's a strategy, King said, not a coincidence.

The audience was in the palm of King's right hand by the time he dropped vague accusations about "connections" and Obama's youthful years in Indonesia.

Amid the roars of approval, King offered reasonably detailed policy prescriptions for the nation's ills, including a balanced-budget amendment, school choice and a consumption-based FAIR Tax to replace the existing tax code.

The politicians in Congress can't balance the budget on their own, he said, without a nonnegotiable mandate from the American public in the form of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

The very culture of the nation is being "eroded" by an education system directed by federal authorities, King charged.

And it's time to "take the tax off productivity" and allow citizens to make their own decision on when to pay taxes, namely when they purchase something, he said.

There's "no downside," King said, and better yet, a consumption tax would cover "the pimps, the prostitutes and the drug pushers."

(No word on exactly how much of the national debt could be lopped off by taxing that lot.)

Rhetorical flourishes aside, King's message was about the need to restore the nation's economic vigor and to empower entrepreneurs.

But the Kiron lawmaker knew his audience, and didn't bother bringing up one issue that would've caused consternation, if not outright hostility, from the crowd: renewal of the wind-energy tax credit.

Why would King bring up wind energy in Manchester?

Because King was in a unique position to make the case to an audience that probably wouldn't accept it from anyone else.

And, because Americans for Prosperity put the issue on the table, sending a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman David Camp, R-Mich., just two days before the summit, railing against the wind-energy tax credit and urging Camp to stand firm against "special interests in the wind industry."

King and the rest of the Iowa congressional delegation say renewal of the wind credit, which expired at the end of 2013, is a top priority, or perhaps the top priority, for the remainder of this session of Congress.

But King hasn't had much luck influencing his friends in the conservative movement on this point.

"American taxpayers and ratepayers have seen little return on this forced investment in wind energy over the past 20 years," Americans for Prosperity wrote in the April 10 letter.

The group beseeched Camp "to be bolder than the Senate Finance Committee in standing up to special interests in the wind-energy industry."

Of course, it was Iowa's own Sen. Chuck Grassley who persuaded the Finance Committee to include renewal of the wind credit in a package of tax provisions.

And those "special interests?"

Perhaps King's hosts in New Hampshire were referring to the 6,000 to 7,000 Iowans whose jobs are directly tied to the state's wind-energy industry.

King could've talked about wind and jobs or wind and entrepreneurs. He could've talked about wind - and ethanol - and national security.

But King decided against making those points in New Hampshire.

On the other hand, he did vote for his leaders' budget last week before Congress decamped for a two-week Easter recess.

Perhaps King was trying to make a subtle point to a different audience, the one that works out of the Republican leadership suites in the Capitol: King would be a good soldier on the GOP budget; now perhaps, GOP leaders will return the favor when it comes to the wind-energy tax credit.