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Fuzzy Math

According to an MIT study, cap and trade could cost the average household more than $3,900 per year.

12:00 AM, Apr 22, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Most Americans probably care a great deal whether they would get to spend that $3,128 themselves or the government spends it on programs to put a chicken in every pot and a Prius in every garage. And the fact is, it's anybody's guess how cap-and-trade revenues would end up being spent. Obama has suggested he would like to use most of cap-and-trade revenues to fund his "making work pay" middle- and lower-class tax credit ($400 per individual and $800 per family per year). Congressional Democrats have left the door open to spending the revenues to "invest in clean energy jobs and cost-saving energy efficient technology," as Rep. Markey's staffers have written.

After corresponding with Reilly, I contacted Politifact's reporter Alexander Lane and editor Bill Adair to ask if they would correct their report that the GOP's estimate of cap and trade's cost is a "pants on fire" falsehood.

Lane wrote in an email: "The detail of my piece that you think needs correcting seems to be in flux...". The "detail" to which he referred was Reilly's admission that the real cost per household would be $800--not $215 per household as Politifact originally reported.

While the discrepancy between these figures was solely Reilly's fault, Politifact's report contained inaccuracies that it should have been able to avoid. Politifact accepted Reilly's logic that the $3,128 collected per household via taxes translates to a net-cost of $0 per household. It reported that "results of a cap-and-trade program, such as increased conservation and more competition from other fuel sources, would put downward pressure on prices," but it didn't make clear that Reilly's estimate of the "real cost"--which didn't include the $3,128 per household--already accounts for these downward pressures. "Moreover," Politifact added, "consumers would get some of the tax back from the government in some form." In fact, Reilly assumed that all--not "some"--of the tax revenue would be returned. Politifact and other news outlets reporting on Reilly's criticism of the GOP's estimate have not made it clear that taxpayers would "get" some or most of this money back through government spending.

When I asked Bill Adair over the phone last week if Politifact would correct its report, he didn't answer the question and ended our conversation by saying: "You're getting me at a really bad time. I would love to talk about this any time tomorrow." Adair did not reply to further inquiries.

On Monday, Politifact won a Pulitzer prize. It has not yet corrected its report.*

John McCormack is a deputy online editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.


Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Reilly's estimated "real cost" per household was $800 for a family of four. In fact, Reilly calculated this $800 cost for the average-sized American household--2.56 people, the same figure Republicans used in their calculation.

*Update: On May 6, Politifact editor Bill Adair wrote an update standing by the report.