Obama Puts Energy First

One of the most daunting challenges any new president faces is prioritizing all the programs that were promised as a candidate. Last night, despite all the grumblings about format, Tom Brokaw got in a very important follow up, when he asked the candidates to prioritize energy, healthcare, and entitlement reform.

Obama, who went second (after McCain argued that we can handle three of the largest issues in a generation at the same time) and made a choice:

We're going to have to prioritize, just like a family has to prioritize. Now, I've listed the things that I think have to be at the top of the list.

Energy we have to deal with today, because you're paying $3.80 here in Nashville for gasoline, and it could go up. And it's a strain on your family budget, but it's also bad for our national security, because countries like Russia and Venezuela and, you know, in some cases, countries like Iran, are benefiting from higher oil prices.

So we've got to deal with that right away. That's why I've called for an investment of $15 billion a year over 10 years. Our goal should be, in 10 year's time, we are free of dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

And we can do it. Now, when JFK said we're going to the Moon in 10 years, nobody was sure how to do it, but we understood that, if the American people make a decision to do something, it gets done. So that would be priority number one.

This debate had a tremendous amount of discussion on energy, which, Americans have realized, is at the center of almost every major issue of the day, from getting the country out of a recession to limiting the power of an emboldened Russia. The fact that Obama has made it clear that energy is his first priority is an extremely welcome sign, and the strong focus on energy policy last night is a watershed moment in Presidential politics.

As Simon pointed out, current proposals on how to reform energy policy illustrate that we may need to come to a much different understanding of the urgency of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and exactly how much that might cost. If one wants to put energy reform in the context of the Apollo project, it is worth noting that Apollo, in its peak year, represented 2.2% of the federal budget. The proposed $15 billion per year would be more like 0.005% (compared to the 2007 spending). If energy reform is to truly be a major national priority, it must be thought about in that context.