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August 3, 2015

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Line of Attack: Did Shelley Berkley vote for a ‘new massive energy tax?’

Line of Attack is a weekly feature in which we parse a political attack, looking at the strategy behind it, how the campaign is delivering it and what facts support or refute it. We’ll assign it a rating on the fairness meter: Legit, Eye Roll, Guffaw, Laughable or Outrageous.

Attack: Democrat Shelley Berkley voted for “a new massive tax on energy” that would force gas prices and home heating and cooling bills to rise.

Method of Delivery: Berkley’s Republican opponent Dean Heller is delivering the message in Spanish this time, reprising a similar English-language ad from earlier in the campaign.

Strategy: For all the talk of Medicare and ethics, both candidates believe this race will turn on so-called pocketbook issues. With this ad, Heller is not only trying to peel away Hispanic voters from Democrats, but convince them that Berkley favors environmental policy at the expense of a family’s livelihood amid a difficult recession.

Fairness Meter: This ad really comes down to parsing semantics—but don’t they all.

In this case, the “new massive tax on energy” that Heller says Berkley supports was the cap-and-trade energy bill from 2009, which passed the House but failed in the Senate.

Technically, and legally speaking, the cap-and-trade schema is not a tax. In fact, lawmakers opted for the cap-and-trade system, instead of a straight up “carbon tax,” in part to avoid exactly that attack.

Still, the system by which carbon emissions are capped and companies are forced to purchase or trade permits in order to exceed the cap, would unquestionably result in more revenue going to the government, as well as increased energy prices. The question is by how much.

And every partisan group, trade group and think tank has a different way of calculating it. The Congressional Budget Office put the average family’s potential cost increase at $175 a year. Low-income energy tax credits included in the bill would have helped offset that for poorer Americans.

An industry trade group report used by the Heller campaign says it could have cost the average family as much as $1,017 by 2030.

All in all, calling it a tax makes for an easy attack line, but it’s not accurate. That earns an eye-roll.

But calling attention to Berkley’s support of an environmental policy that would raise energy costs is legit.

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