As you’ll recall, a few weeks ago Rep. John Dingell said in an interview that he plans to introduce a carbon tax bill, "to see how people really feel about this." He expressed doubt that the American people are willing to pay what it will cost.

Reaction from progressives was swift and vicious. Everyone assumed Dingell would deliberately design a horrible bill, fail to support it, watch it go down in flames, and thereby poison the debate. See, e.g., this unsigned L.A. Times editorial.

Now there’s a little bit of information about the bill emerging. Seems the Detroit Free Press got Dingell on the phone. Here’s what they heard:

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Dingell said by phone Wednesday that a gas tax would likely be phased in, and carbon tax revenue would be distributed among Medicare, Social Security and various conservation funds. “Truthfully, I believe this is the way to go, and I’m willing to lose some skin over it,” he said. But he expects fierce opposition.

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I think it’s fair to say that this is not the best way to design a carbon tax bill. The phase-in is good, but most carbon tax advocates agree that the tax should be revenue neutral: it should return the revenue via cuts in other taxes, either payroll or income. Not only does this make the effect more or less economically neutral, it helps build support, since average people see tangible benefits in every paycheck.

For the revenue to disappear into entitlement programs without a trace guarantees that most consumers will encounter only costs and no benefits, at least in the short term. Not a recipe for broad support.

Still, Dingell says he believes in the tax qua policy, and is willing to fight for it. Maybe he’s BSing, but if he’s serious — if he’s really going to get behind this thing — he could sure use some backup.

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