Obama’s Hybrid Car Attack Dog
Rahm Emanuel could emerge as the country’s most powerful advocate for fuel-efficient gas-electric vehicles.
As President Obama takes office, he will be relying on a small team of advisers to help him hit the ground running. Most observers see Obama’s White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel—a political insider often described as an attack dog—as the most aggressive member of the team. Emanuel described his intention for speed and fierce action in the first days of the Obama era: “Put points on the board. Show people you can govern. Deliver on what you said you were going to deliver on.”
While Emanuel is well known for his “take no prisoners” approach to politics and business—earning him the nickname “Rahmbo”—his strong support for hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and cars running on compressed natural gas is less understood. Yet, Emanuel could emerge as the country’s most ardent, powerful and effective advocate for swift action regarding fuel-efficient gas-electric vehicles.
As a devout Jew, and the son of a Jerusalem-born pediatrician with Zionist affiliations, Emanuel may be personally motivated to accelerate American efforts to wean itself from Middle East oil. Emanuel served as a civilian volunteer assisting the Israel Defense Forces for a short time during the 1991 Gulf War.
While representing Illinois in the US House of Representatives, Emanuel introduced the American Hybrid Tax Credit Act in 2005 to increase tax credits for consumers buying hybrid vehicles. In 2008, he sponsored legislation to mandate automakers to build 10 percent of their fleet with natural gas vehicles by 2018. Neither bill became law. As White House Chief of Staff, he is in a better position to push the agenda, especially considering growing support of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles—and the fact that Emanuel has President Obama’s ear.
The clearest vision of Emanuel’s beliefs about hybrid cars can be found in his 2006 book, “The Plan.” The book, co-authored with Bruce Reed, was republished in 2008 without revision. Here is an extended excerpt from the chapter, “Meet the Jetsons: The Hybrid Economy:”
“We will never end our addiction to oil until we overcome our addiction to old policies. We need a comprehensive, forward-thinking energy policy based on efficiency and innovation.
“We should break our oil habit and save our auto industry in the bargain by ushering in a Hybrid Economy that can cut America’s gasoline consumption in half over the next decade. Detroit is on the ropes for a host of reasons, from high health care costs to corporate bad judgment. But the biggest looming threat to its survival may be Japan’s massive lead in developing hybrid-powered engines…
“Today, we have the chance to achieve a real breakthrough: the plug-in hybrid…Hybrid engines save gasoline by switching back and forth from battery to gasoline power. Plug-in hybrids have the potential to store up enough battery power to run an engine for twenty miles without using a drop of gasoline. With a plug-in hybrid, commuters can drive back and forth to work, recharge their cars overnight, and go a month or more without a trip to the gas station.
“We should put the tax code in line with the hybrid revolution. Instead of providing tax breaks for Hummers, as [the Bush Administration] did, we should offer a temporary $7,000 tax credit for purchasing hybrids and other ‘lean burn’ powered vehicles assembled in America.”
In “The Plan,” Emanuel also expresses his belief that government-sponsored research into low-emission engines would create millions of new high-wage jobs.