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  • Published: Apr 29th, 2009
  • Category: USA
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Gore Ignores Carbon Tax Costs in Debate

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WASHINGTON — Al Gore paused during his descent from atop the marble Capitol steps on his way to spar with an old rival, Newt Gingrich. Grinning as he glided toward a former aide he had spotted, Gore joked, “Just like old times.”

Maybe for Gore. But Democrats running the House these days made sure it wasn’t for Gingrich, the once House speaker.

The two returned to Capitol Hill on Friday to debate the planet’s future. But Gingrich, the face of the 1994 Republican Revolution, wasn’t allowed to share the stage with Gore, the Democrats’ Nobel Prize winner and subject of an Oscar-winning documentary.

It was Gingrich, who is considering a 2012 presidential campaign, who waited his turn before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in an anteroom. He would have to defer as Gore and his on-camera partner, retired Sen. John Warner, R-Va., appeared first.

Yes, Warner is a Republican, but he earned top billing with Gore because he supports climate change legislation before the committee.

It’s been nearly a decade since Gore and Gingrich left government life as prominent leaders of their parties, both men then sharing a reputation as more cerebral than charismatic. On Friday, each reveled in their wonkish comfort zones.

“I have read all 648 pages of this bill,” Gore bragged, a boast that would surprise no one who caught his teacher’s-pet performance in the 2000 presidential race. “It took me two transcontinental flights on United Airlines to finish it.”

Also not surprising, Gore endorsed the bill.

Gingrich, who opposes the bill, said he had read a bit more than 200 pages, until he got to a reference about a Jacuzzi. That was enough, he said, calling the legislation an energy tax and a power grab for the Energy Department.

Both men settled comfortably back into the camera-hogging, hyperbolic styles they had honed during their days of power in Washington.

Gore at times transitioned from his latest role as global statesman to contentious politician, a skill he developed after years serving as a senator, vice president and presidential nominee. He routinely took up all of the allotted minutes for an answer, often turning to give Warner a chance to speak only after the red light came on signaling no more time.

When Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, asked Gore to explain the cost of the climate legislation, Gore ignored him. Instead, he held up The New York Times and summarized an article supporting his contention that some corporations had ignored their own research showing humans caused global warming.

Barton asked him to answer the question. Gore again held up the paper and summarized the story.

Gore then compared Barton and Bernard Madoff, who swindled investors out of $50 billion, prompting Barton to interrupt Gore: “I’ve never talked to Bernie Madoff.”

“I’m not saying that you have,” Gore replied.

He continued, challenging opponents of the legislation to “find the moral courage” to support it and the “moral imagination” to accept the problem. He lectured the panel on “the reality of the world today,” pointing out that, “I gave my slide show to the Indian Parliament.”

Gingrich, ever the history teacher, told the story of the Viking King Canute after he took his seat before the committee. It was King Canute _ Gingrich’s namesake, he said _ who tried and failed to push back the ocean in an attempt to show his supporters that he was not, alas, all-powerful.

“This is a hint,” Gingrich said. The bill, he added, shows “failure to learn the lesson” of King Canute _ if in fact the authors, or anyone else present, had ever before heard of Canute. (Gore had already left.)

Gingrich read a statement to the panel that he had released on his Web site earlier in the day. He opposes the legislation and, in a characteristic move, has proposed his own 38-point plan called “green conservatism.”

Gingrich didn’t mince words when asked about the prospect of actually reducing carbon as outlined by Democrats and President Barack Obama.

“A fantasy,” he declared.

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