For a movement that has defined itself as caring about the “existential threat” of climate change, House progressives have set themselves on a dangerous path. By holding hostage an ambitious $1 trillion infrastructure package that contains climate provisions they support and can pass unless the House passes a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that contains many provisions that have nothing to do with climate change and can’t pass, they are unmasking their true priorities. The real crisis or existential threat isn’t climate change but the prospect of losing their majority in 2022 before they can enact a sweeping left-wing command and control agenda.
I agree with House progressives who say we should listen to climate scientists. What voters will find curious is why climate scientists aren’t arguing for many of the provisions in the reconciliation package. Perhaps AOC can tell us which climate scientists are arguing that free college, expanding government-run health care and universal pre-school are essential to reducing carbon emissions. Is crayon sequestration a new tool to fight climate change?
By adopting an “it’s our way or no highway” posture, House progressives are demonstrating the degree to which authoritarianism cuts across both parties. The American system was designed so that no faction or leader could ever dictate terms and ideologically cleanse the public square of dissent. Telling one’s base the lie that perfection is an attainable goal if politicians simply stand firm is a fundamental betrayal of not just voters but our system of government and the people who have served and died to protect it.
Our founders saw this coming, which is why, in Federalist 65, Alexander Hamilton dismantled the notion that one side’s vision of governing perfection could prevail and be imposed on society at large. Hamilton and our founders understood that principled compromise was the only path forward for our pluralistic country.
Hamilton wrote, “If mankind were to resolve to agree in no institution of government, until every part of it had been adjusted to the most exact standard of perfection, society would soon become a general scene of anarchy, and the world a desert. Where is the standard of perfection to be found? Who will undertake to unite the discordant opinions of a whole community, in the same judgment of it; and to prevail upon one conceited projector to renounce his INFALLIBLE criterion for the FALLIBLE criterion of his more CONCEITED NEIGHBOR?”
In 2021, the modern conceit around climate is the idea that one side cares more about the planet than the other and that the other side can’t possibly have an alternative path to the same goal. In his speech before the United Nations this week, President Biden used the word “climate” 14 times but “freedom” only 5 times. If he reversed the emphasis and told his international audience that free economies are clean economies, he would have done more to improve our natural and economic environment.
Biden is also forgetting that he wasn’t elected to be Bernie Sanders or Che Guevara. He was elected to not be Donald Trump. And to be competent. It’s hard to be competent when his party is choosing the path Hamilton called anarchy.
As a long-time congressional staffer, procedural impasses often felt like watching a car crash in slow motion. What’s happening in Congress is more like a multi-car pile-up (infrastructure, reconciliation, debt limit, continuing resolution, disaster aid). It will be tempting for Republicans to stand by and let the majority party try to extricate itself from this mess, but Republicans should remember that Americans are the passengers.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is right to play hardball over the debt limit, but his position will be stronger if it’s connected to policy rather than merely political goals. In 2010, my former boss U.S. Tom Coburn (R-OK) pioneered using the debt limit as a negotiating tool. Before then, debt limit increases were automatic. Even questioning the increases was unthinkable. Yet Coburn, who viewed the federal government as a spending addict, wagered that it was safer to let the addict convulse than to go on to overdose and die. His willingness to force a negotiation on the debt limit led to the Budget Control Act of 2011 which in turn led to the first year-to-year reduction in spending since the 1950s.
Republicans have it in their power to once again choose a path that prioritizes policy over personalities. Republicans should define what they are for and make it plain that progressives are blocking priorities like rural broadband, bridge repairs, infrastructure resiliency and adaptation and clean energy infrastructure and research. If they do, they just might win and have talented people not retire.
If progressives are ready to end their charade of being serious on climate so they can pursue their utopian dreams and indulge in deficit denial, conservatives should fill the gap with solutions that work. Policy approaches like recycling government waste to help fund research and development, unshackling clean tech entrepreneurs by updating outdated regulations, reforming the tax code to incentivize immediate investments in breakthroughs, defending property rights and protecting civil society and social entrepreneurs who are pursuing natural solutions. These are far more credible and serious solutions than linking climate change to new entitlement programs and expansions of the ones we have that are going bankrupt.
Americans are tired of lies on both sides. The truth is durable solutions are within reach. Perhaps the looming chaos in Washington will make that clear.