By Juan Williams - 06/02/14 06:00 AM EDT
President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon gas coming from the nation’s coal plants is to be announced Monday. Cue the predictable attacks from Congress’ rightwing.
Already The New York Times reports that Republicans “say that Mr. Obama will be using his executive authority as a back door to force through an inflammatory cap-and-trade policy he could not get through Congress.”
The new Environmental Protection Agency regulations come weeks after the Senate defeat of a much smaller effort at passing a bill to spur the use of energy efficient, “smart meter” heating and cooling systems.
Republicans refused to vote for that simple idea unless they could use it as a springboard to open a debate on the Keystone XL pipeline. They hoped to open a split between some conservative Senate Democrats and the president. They also wanted a separate debate on halting the president from using his executive powers to limit carbon emissions.
The defeated energy bill had bipartisan support with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) as co-sponsors. Portman described the inability to pass the bill as “another disappointing example of Washington’s dysfunction.”
Other Republicans blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They complained he did not allow amendments to be attached to the bill, closing the door for debate in the Senate.
The critics are exactly wrong.
Even in this politically polarized Senate, Reid indicated he would have allowed a separate vote on Keystone. But it would have come after a clean vote on the Portman-Shaheen bill. He rightly wanted to avoid opening the door to potential political games such as poison pill amendments preventing the President from taking executive action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Last month, both the president and Reid condemned news reporters for parroting the GOP line that both political parties are to blame for the failure to get anything done on Capitol Hill.
Reid told MSNBC that Congressional reporters “won’t call things the way they actually exist,” which is that “the Republicans have stopped everything from happening…We [the Democrat majority] want to legislate.”
President Obama recently delivered a similar message. He told a fundraising audience that, contrary to news reports, Democrats and Republicans are not equally to blame for Congressional gridlock.
“The truth of the matter is that the problem in Congress is very specific,” said the president. “We have a group of folks in the Republican Party who have taken over who are so ideologically rigid…who deny the science of climate change."
He added that his party was not “overly ideological” and went on:
“So when you hear a false equivalence that somehow, well, Congress is just broken, it’s not true. What’s broken right now is a Republican Party that repeatedly says ‘No’ to time-tested strategies to grow the economy, create more jobs, ensure fairness, open up opportunity to all people.”
That presidential diagnosis also applies to 2010, when Senate Republicans killed another energy bill. That one was based on the same ‘cap-and-trade’ theory that the president is putting in place by executive action Monday.
The opposition then was fed by Tea Party complaints that the bill was a “war on coal.” They ignored the fact that cap-and-trade is a pro-business approach historically embraced by Republican leaders from President George H.W. Bush to Mitt Romney.
Now Tea Party types threaten political doom for any renegade Republican not inveighing against big government and costly regulation. They also claim more regulation on burning coal is sure to raise consumer energy prices but would do little to limit greenhouse gas emissions because the world’s other major polluting nations have not agreed to reduce their pollution.
But as The New York Times reported last week, “a number of officials at electric utilities say they welcome cap-and-trade programs because they offer an affordable and flexible way to comply with the new regulation.” In addition, Chinese officials say they are looking to the United States for solutions and leadership on the issue.
Yet Republicans and sadly much of the news media will present the president’s action to limit carbon emissions as the actions of an imperial president who is quick to use executive orders. Of course, the hidden fact is that President Obama has issued fewer executive orders than his recent predecessors.
What is not-so-hidden is that with six months of its lifespan remaining, the 113th Congress is on track to set the record as the least productive Congress in American history. So far GOP obstruction on energy and other issues has resulted in this Congress passing only 104 laws. The 80th Congress, famously labeled as the ‘Do-Nothing’ Congress by President Truman, managed to pass 906 laws.
Last year, Reid and Senate Democrats had to resort to the “nuclear option,” to stop Republicans from using the filibuster to halt votes on key nominees for top administration posts. Now Republicans complain that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), unlike Reid, allows amendments and debate in the House. That is more distortion. The Speaker simply gets the Rules Committee to declare amendments he does not want to see debated as “out of order.”
The critics need to take a deep breath while they can still breathe clean air.
Juan Wiliams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel