The U.S. Senate offered a sampling of political theater at its best on Tuesday in the vote produced and directed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Democrats’ Green New Deal (GND).
The theatricality of the vote on a non-binding resolution to endorse the far-reaching proposals of achieving a pollution-free economy based strictly on renewable resources and create millions of high-wage jobs into the bargain was almost comically transparent (even if Democrats weren’t laughing).
Everyone knew that the Republican majority guaranteed the resolution wouldn’t pass — and it didn’t, by a vote of 57 nays to 0 yeas.
Everyone also knew that the point of the exercise — what Democrats derided as a “political stunt” — was to divide the Democrats, many of whom are reluctant to support the risky idea, and to get them, especially the presidentially-inclined, to put themselves on record as being for a plan that Republicans believe will be a political albatross in 2020.
Refusing to be ensnared, 43 Democrats only said “present” when their names were called, while four joined the Republican nays. Thus, none are on record voting for it, and if Republicans try to stick the Green New Deal label on them in 2020, they can plausibly deny it. In a sense, McConnell’s ploy backfired, since instead of splitting Democrats, they were united in abstaining. It’s a weak reed, though, since Republicans can still cite the “present” votes of their opponents, as well as their on-the-record statements in various shades of green.
Theatricality was also evident in the colorful language it provoked.
“The Green New Deal is chockful of utopian ideas but completely devoid of concrete plans to implement any of its overreaching policies,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, who termed it a “radical environmental policy” that promises “Medicare for all, free college, and guaranteed jobs.”
“You might as well throw in free beer and pizza,” Cornyn quipped.
Democratic Minority Leader Charles Schumer called the ensnarement strategy “gotcha politics,” a phrase that deserves immediate entry into the 2020 campaign lexicon.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the co-culprit/co-author of the GND, lectured Republicans for “wasting the American peoples’ time,” and telling them they should “learn to govern. Our jobs aren’t for campaigning, and that’s exactly what these bluff-votes are for,” the freshman firebrand tweeted.
But it was good political theater, in the sense that it did highlight important issues, using the parliamentary process ― an otherwise dull and droning business ― to do so. A bluff-vote it was; a waste of time, it wasn’t.
Indeed, stunts are as much a part of American politics as populist pie-in-the-unpolluted-sky schemes. Tuesday’s vote calls to mind President Harry Truman and the “Do-Nothing Congress.” In July 1947, Truman convened a special session of Congress to demand action on the then-acute national housing shortage, which the Republicans had promised to solve but had done nothing about.
Truman expected that the Republican majority would be unresponsive, and so they were, but he made his point with a vehement soliloquy against do-nothingism that helped set the scene for his astonishing upset victory in 1948. Despite the fact that Congress had passed a total of 906 bills (including Truman’s own Assistance to Greece and Turkey Act, which presaged the Marshall Plan), the nickname stuck.
In Tuesday’s vote, the real issues of the environment and the economy were not neglected either. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican of Kansas who chairs the Agriculture Committee, framed the debate well:
While acknowledging legitimate environmental concerns, Roberts argued that the agriculture industry — which he said was likewise averse to destroying the planet — also has a moral imperative to feed a hungry country and world.
“I think all Republicans understand there is climate change. All Republicans know that human activity does contribute to it,” he said. “Yes, we ought to do something. The point I’m trying to make here is that we don’t want to do the wrong thing and cause a great deal of disruption in the process.”
Not everyone agrees that climate change is a scientific fact, but Roberts’ comment indicates that it is a political fact, one that his party must reckon with.
How much disruption GND will cause is, of course, a matter of predicting the future, something neither major party is very good at.
But ballpark figures are available. And it’s a big ballpark. Bloomberg News quotes an estimate for the GND Ten Year Plan compiled by the non-partisan American Action Forum: The price of utopia comes to between $51 trillion and $93 trillion. That’s the total cost for eliminating carbon emissions from the power and transportation sectors, and the economic agenda of providing jobs and health care for all.
Democrats have offered very little in the way of explaining how the country can possibly pay for it and make it work. The general approach of the advocates of this restructuring of America is, “We’ll talk about it.” The inexperience and ignorance of the young politicians who are trying to foist this program on the American people is exceeded only by their arrogance.
The Green New Deal borrows more from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal than just the name. Like its predecessor, which drew inspiration from the centralized planned economies of the 1930s in Russia and Italy, the GND envisions a new era of government regulation that will make the profusion of various regulations in recent decades look like a libertarian’s utopia.
The bottom line: FDR’s New Deal failed to end the Depression, but the Green New Deal certainly could cause one.