WASHINGTON — IT'S not hard to understand why two Oklahomans - Sen. David Boren and Rep. David McCurdy - are among the most vocal Democrats fighting President Clinton's proposed energy tax: Almost one-third of their state's workers owe their employment to high-energy industry or to energy production itself.
Oklahoma polls show overwhelming opposition to the tax, which is based on the heat content or British thermal units (Btu) of most forms of energy. A study by the University of Oklahoma claims that the Btu tax would cost the state 11,000 jobs, raise the average Oklahoman's monthly energy bill by $180, and cut the value of farmland by $1 billion.
So what's Rep. Mike Synar, a Democrat who represents Oklahoma's second district, including Tulsa and Muskogee, doing supporting the energy tax?
"Well, first of all, nobody likes taxes," Mr. Synar says. "The fact is, if you look at all the taxes that were [considered], including the carbon tax, the gasoline tax, and the VAT tax, the Btu tax fits the bill for what has been the driving theme of the Clinton economic program: one, honesty in the numbers of revenues, and two, it fairly distributes the burden."
Mr. Clinton is counting on the energy tax to bring in $70 billion over five years, making it a cornerstone of his deficit-reduction plan. But it is only part of the package, and Synar says, "Oklahomans are willing to make a reasonable sacrifice."
"My constituents are telling me to support the president," he adds.
In his eighth term in Congress, Synar has made a career of going against special interests, such as the tobacco industry. He accepts no contributions from political action committees. And as chairman of the House of Representatives' liberal Democratic Study Group, his name is at the top of numerous reports supporting Clinton's plan.
But is he leaving himself vulnerable for the next election? After all, he barely survived a tough primary race last November, in which the National Rifle Association alone kicked in $500,000 to oppose him, Synar's office reports. And Washington lobby groups have organized rallies, postcard campaigns, and phone-ins aimed namely at Mr. Boren, a swing vote on the Senate's tax-writing committee.
Jeff Nesbitt of Citizens for a Sound Economy, one of the Washington groups active in Oklahoma, says CSE is not targeting Synar. But, stresses the former director of communications for ex-Vice President Quayle, groups like his are not creating a reaction, they are organizing feeling that is already there.
Synar rejects the notion that Boren and McCurdy are responding to their constituents.
"It's the industries themselves," he states. "Very candidly, these are the same groups that walked us from $1 trillion to $4 trillion in debt. It's a little disingenuous for them to come back now and say they've got a better solution."
"If you look at the mail coming into our office, it's all orchestrated - pre-perforated postcards from groups that have been lied to about the impact of the tax."