The Green New Deal is a great and necessary idea. It also polls pretty well. Back in November, one poll had majorities of both Democrats and Republicans supporting it. The pollster was quoted as saying, however, that the Republican support may be high because Republicans didn’t yet realize that it was a Democratic thing. I don’t know what kind of “Green New Deal” Republicans think their party leaders might be getting up to, but that’s what the man said.
I wonder what people would think, though, when they were told that the Green New Deal calls for “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.” Huh? Those are fine goals, but in what sense are they green?
You can make a tortured case that anything is green, I guess, but I’m hardly the only one to see a heck of a lot of lily-gilding in the last few pages of the Green New Deal resolution introduced by Senator Ed Markey and freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (but pushed, of course, by AOC).
AOC has been handling her time in the spotlight incredibly well, I think. On the 70 percent marginal tax rate, I praised her to the skies. She was terrific on 60 Minutes, and in an NPR interview, she gracefully refused Steve Inskeep’s baiting to talk smack on her party’s leaders. It must be weird to be a member of Congress for all of a month or so and be followed around like you’re a movie star.
But here we have her first real misstep. I get it. She wants to think big and throw away all the tired, constraining categories and move our old friend the Overton Window. But instead, this resolution might be slamming it shut. It’s overly broad and grandiose. Getting to zero carbon emissions by 2030 is basically impossible. Serious environmentalists are shooting for 2050. Sweden hopes to be carbon neutral by 2045. That’s Sweden. The United States has 32 times Sweden’s population and 39 times its gross national product.
Ernest Moniz, Barack Obama’s energy secretary, is a brilliant person. No one knows more about energy than he does. He told NPR: “I’m afraid I just cannot see how we could possibly go to zero carbon in the 10-year time frame. It’s just impractical. And if we start putting out impractical targets, we may lose a lot of key constituencies who we need to bring along to have a real low-carbon solution on the most rapid time frame that we can achieve.”
Republicans and conservatives smell the blood in the water. Last week I saw a couple of conservatives at an event and they were chortling about the Green New Deal. Part of their schadenfreude had to do with a document from AOC’s office that was supposed to be private but somehow got out (The Washington Post has a good summary here) that made reference to daffy goals like building high-speed rail “at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.” That’s gold for Republican consultants.
And now, Mitch McConnell has pounced. He’s scheduling a floor vote on the Green New Deal in the Senate. “We’ll give everybody an opportunity to go on record and see how they feel about the Green New Deal,” he said Tuesday with a grin.
Now it should go without saying, although I’ll say it, that McConnell is being big-P Political in his usual rancidly obvious way. Many times in recent years he has said that the Senate should not waste its time on show votes that aren’t actual legislation (which the Green New Deal is not) and that don’t have a chance of passage (which this does not, because obviously everyone in the GOP majority will be against it). As recently as Jan. 25, he said on the floor: “For weeks, I have continuously said I wouldn't let the Senate become a theater for show votes and messaging stunts from either side. We would only vote on plans that stood an actual chance of being signed by the president and, thus, obviously, becoming law.”
So much for that.
The obvious fact is that Republicans have nothing to say about climate change (except that it’s being faked) and are here, as with so many other issues, them thwarting the clear will of the majority of Americans.
Still, the Senate vote, which has not been scheduled, could reveal a big split in the Democratic caucus. Presumably, the presidential candidates will vote for it, because they mostly committed to the New Green deal name even before the plan was out. A few other senators from safe liberal states will stay with it—Pat Leahy of Vermont, maybe both senators from Washington, Jeff Merkley of Oregon (although he is up for reelection in 2020, which might complicate things).
But beyond that… people like Joe Manchin and Doug Jones and Jon Tester are givens as “no” votes, I would think, but also look at someone like Gary Peters of Michigan, usually a pretty liberal vote on whatever; but he’s up in 2020, in a smokestack state. I’m just guessing here, but it wouldn’t shock me to see the caucus split hard on this vote. And don’t blame the senators. Blame a badly written resolution (and while AOC gets all the attention, what in the world was a veteran lawmaker like Markey doing putting his name on that?).
Credit AOC for getting the Green New Deal in the camera frame. Climate change is an issue that needs serious attention. But it doesn’t need this sort of attention. Let’s hope this lesson about throwing a hanging curveball over Mitch McConnell’s plate has been learned.