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GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) decision to put the Green New Deal resolution to a Senate vote will backfire. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has quickly pounced, urging the GOP leader to "bring it on."
"The American people need to see that this is all there is to the Republican plan on climate change," said Schumer, calling it "a political stunt."
McConnell hopes to shift attention away from the GOP's increasingly unpopular climate obstruction by casting Democrats' plans as socialism.
Schumer holds the ace card, however: Public support for government action on climate change has never been broader or stronger. For example, recent polling shows that 81 percent of voters, including 57 percent of conservative Republicans, support a 10-year goal of accelerating the transition from fossil fuels toward electricity powered by 100 percent clean energy.
After three straight years of devastating climate disasters across the nation, voters are becoming impatient. For the first time, climate change became a top-tier ballot box issue in 2018. Looking ahead to the 2020 elections, new polling finds that climate change and health care are tied as the two top issue priorities for Democratic primary voters.
The problem is that a partisan Senate fight does not get us closer to the climate action that is urgently needed. Democrats must instead turn McConnell's political stunt into a launching pad for real climate dialogue, debate and action.
First, Democrats should follow Schumer's lead and force a long-overdue but broader Senate debate about climate change solutions. Schumer is insisting that McConnell allow an open debate and amendment process. Democrats should play hard ball to thwart any efforts by McConnell to jam a vote.
Second, Democrats should prepare their own list of amendments with the goal of isolating the President Trump-McConnell wing of climate obstruction. Amendments should be designed to invite Republican senators to come out of hiding so senators can move past this political theater, roll up their sleeves and get to serious work on solutions.
A good starting point: a bipartisan amendment from 2016 that never came to a vote. The 176-word amendment proposed by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) was co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Susan Collins of Maine, and Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
The amendment acknowledges that human activity is contributing to climate change that is already affecting the health, security, economy and infrastructure of the United States, and it affirms Congress' "responsibility to take actions that reduce emissions and combat climate change."
The next elections are on the horizon, minimizing the potential for such a vote to be used to green-wash an obstructionist climate record. Over the next 21 months, the proof will not be in the resolution vote itself, which is only a beginning, but in the dialogue, deeds and future votes that follow.
Additional amendments should press harder to find out where senators stand on:
- Supporting America's scientists and experts on climate change against Trump's ridicule. Amendments should affirm the findings of key reports, including the 2018 National Assessment that Trump dismissed, the Defense Department's 2019 report to Congress on climate change's widespread threats to national security and military installations, the National Academy of Sciences' recommendations to lawmakers on seven strategies to address climate change, and the 2018 statement from 22 medical societies on the health impacts of climate change.
- Advancing real protections for workers. For example, climate obstructionists often cite coal miners in opposing climate policies, but fail to act on legislation that would improve pension security and healthcare for coal miners.
- Trump's craziest climate ideas. At the top of a long and dangerous list: Trump's efforts to usurp states rights' to clean their own air and act on climate, and Trump's push to have ratepayers subsidize economically obsolete coal-fired power plants.
- Supporting the efforts of 3,600 leaders from America's city halls, state houses, boardrooms and college campuses, representing more than 155 million Americans, who have signed the "We Are Still In" declaration on the Paris climate agreement.
Finally, Democrats should unite in voting against McConnell on his Green New Deal stunt. McConnell will try to make this a vote about his caricature of the Green New Deal. For Democrats, however, they should stand united in an affirmative vote that they define on their terms: embracing the urgent need to act on climate and placing the wellbeing of American workers, frontline communities, rural communities and small businesses at the heart of shaping those policies.
The vote must also be a promise from Democrats to get busy on climate change. It is not enough to complain about Republican obstruction. Democrats need to use this debate as their own call to action to do the hard work of sifting through and drafting actionable policy proposals.
The Green New Deal's sponsors envision more work ahead to craft their policy proposals. These should be evaluated and explored alongside other - potentially complementary - policy proposals, such as carbon taxes, pollution caps, carbon dividends, energy R&D, green infrastructure, clean energy standards, energy efficiency, land conservation programs and climate preparedness planning.
Meanwhile, the big tent movement behind government action on climate change does not have to unite behind one world view, one policy proposal, nor one deal. But we must stand united in our beliefs that America's elected officials must be pressed to act, that there is an urgency to getting started, and that we are stronger supporting each other than working against each other.
Together, we can overcome McConnell's wall of climate obstruction.
Jeremy Symons writes on climate change, energy policy and politics. He previously worked at Environmental Defense Fund and for Democrats in the United States Senate.