Climate Politics: The View from Washington (8th Nov.)


Original appeared at Civil Notion

Climate Politics: The View from Washington (8th Nov.)

Joel Stronberg, Esq.
By Joel Stronberg, Esq. and 11/08/23

A note to readers: Legislation is not enacted in a vacuum. Successful advocacy strategies begin with understanding the political context in which proposed climate-related policies are to be debated and acted upon. With this in mind, “Climate Politics: The View from Washington” will become a regular feature on the Civil Notion website.

November 8, 2023. With a new speaker—Mike Johnson (R-LA)—finally in place, the House of Representatives has returned to work. Johnson and House Republicans have much to prove after three weeks of chaos and vitriol toward each other. Based on his early actions and statements, it appears Johnson favors the legislative agenda of House ultra-conservatives.

Image courtesy of Jose Fontano on Unsplash.

Speaker Johnson’s conservative credentials are impeccable. Most importantly, they are more believable than McCarthy’s ever were to the lower chamber’s far-right members like Representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and the former president.

Gaetz, who started it all with his motion to vacate the chair, has lauded the selection of Johnson as speaker. “The swamp is on the run, Maga is ascendant, and if you don’t think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to Maga Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of this movement and where the power of the Republican party truly lies, then you’re not paying attention.”

However, Johnson’s impeccable credentials won’t save him from the wrath of the far-right. The “evil eight” that laid McCarthy low and the rule allowing a single representative to file a motion to vacate the chair are exactly as they were before. if the first week of his speakership is anything to go by, Johnson is as far-right as any of the other three candidates rejected before him.

The House MAGA (Make America Great Again) constituency seems willing to cut Speaker Johnson some slack to keep the government open—possibly through early 2024. The ultras appear to understand that the three weeks it took to elect Johnson was not the GOP’s finest hour.

Shutting down the government so soon after the speaker debacle would only fuel the claims of Democrats that Republicans can’t govern. Still, the objective of many far-right politicians isn’t governance. It’s chaos.

The major issues Congress and the White House must resolve over the next several weeks are all about money. Looming large is the November 17th expiration of the continuing resolution that’s been keeping the doors of the federal government open for business since the beginning of the current fiscal year (October 1). The funding resolution proved to be McCarthy’s downfall.

The speaker prefers the House to pass twelve individual appropriations bills rather than multi-agency omnibus packages. In recent interviews, Johnson has indicated that “Congress continues to work ‘in good faith’ toward its November 17 appropriations deadline to avert a government shutdown.”

Should all the individual bills not be passed, he’s willing to support a stop-gap resolution ending on January 15 or possibly as late as April 15. The Senate has other ideas. It’s considering passage of a continuing resolution ending in mid-December. It’s not the only conflict between the two chambers. The bills, for the most part, keep funding relatively level. The truth is there are multiple “fixes” being considered—none of which has yet to emerge as the winner.

While House Republicans bickered among themselves, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed all twelve appropriations bills. According to the committee, “seven of the Senate’s twelve appropriations bills cleared Committee unanimously—and all bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.”

The full Senate has already passed three appropriations bills “funding military construction and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.” As to the nine remaining bills, it’s being reported by The Hill that leading Senate appropriators are considering combining the nine appropriations bills into “one large ‘maxi-bus’ to be brought to the floor to avoid a government shutdown or long-term stop-gap measure.”

Johnson continues to favor taking up and passing twelve individual bills. But with only ten days left before the current funding resolution lapses and significant differences between the House and Senate versions, it’s hard to imagine how Congress can complete its appropriations work before the November 17 deadline.

The Senate and the House versions of their respective bills don’t bear much resemblance to each other. Points of disagreement abound—especially over the amount of money Congress has to appropriate.

The Senate is using the higher total funding levels agreed to by President Biden and former Speaker McCarthy as part of their negotiations on raising the debt ceiling. House Republicans are disowning the agreement and pegging their total number below that of FY 2023. Republican House appropriators have their knives out to cut or radically reduce funding for climate-related policies and programs

The House version of the $34.8 billion Interior and Environment appropriations bill (HR 4821) “would rescind $9.4 billion in Inflation Reduction Act funding provided to EPA,…and the Council on Environmental Quality.” The bill would also cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by nearly 40 percent. The Department of the Interior is looking at a budget reduction of $677 million.

As reported, a rider sponsored by the far-right representative from Texas, Chip Roy, and others would summarily reverse any of President Biden’s executive orders on climate change. Something that would surely violate the separation of the legislative and executive branches.

An amendment from another ultra-conservative, Congressman Ralph Norman (R-SC), would prohibit funding for the administration’s newly created American Climate Corp. The Corp’s aim is to employ tens of thousands of young people to fight climate change. 

House conservatives proposed 100 amendments to the legislation reported out of the Republican-controlled appropriations committee—most of which were rejected. However, they offer insight into the thinking of MAGA legislators about climate change. Examples of amendments that didn’t make it into the House bill include prohibiting the removal of monuments from Interior Department lands. The failed amendment was proposed by a leading MAGA maven—Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA),

In support of her amendment, Greene declared:

For too long, communist Democrats have been hellbent on erasing our culture, our way of life, and our history, whether we agree with it or not.

Although I would phrase it differently, I share with Ms. Greene her concern that we do ourselves a disservice by hiding from history. Context is critically important to understanding what went before. History teaches us what to look out for lest we repeat those mistakes.

Amendments that made it into the bill include prohibiting the use of federal funds to promulgate more strident vehicle emissions, blocking power plant emission rules, and stricter soot standards while mandating new oil and gas lease sales on public lands.

The Interior and Environment bill “notably boosted or sustained funding for certain bipartisan priorities such as wildland firefighting; the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program; and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education and Indian Health Service.” The proposed increases are being funded by reductions in other programs and policy areas, e.g., EPA.

The Senate is where most of the House appropriations bills will go to die.

President Biden has now sent to Congress a supplemental request for nearly $106 billion in aid to Israel, Gaza, and Ukraine, as well as for border security and countering China’s claims over Taiwan. The request also includes funds to compete with China’s Belt and Road lending to developing countries.

Johnson is opposed to a single bill, and the House has now passed a stand-alone $14.3 billion aid package for Israel. However, it comes with a substantial string attached. The speaker proposes to “pay for the spending with $14.5 billion in cuts to the long-understaffed Internal Revenue Service.”

The bill will be dead on arrival in the Senate. President Biden and the Democrats, as well as Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) and a host of Republicans, want to keep the $106 billion aid package together.

Johnson favors funding for Ukraine, unlike Trump and many of the ultra-conservatives on Capitol Hill. Isolationism is part of what the former president and his core supporters peddle to voters. It’s a policy opposed by Democrats and many establishment Republicans, who believe that no nation—especially the US—can afford to be an island.

Those who favor allied support for Ukraine tend to see the conflict in a more historical context. It’s hardly hyperbole to suggest that what Russia is doing smacks of what Hitler did on the way to World War II. There are multiple reasons for a single piece of legislation. Some are political, while others respond to the urgency of various situations. Russia and China would capitalize on the uncertainty caused by drawn-out debates over individual funding bills.

If what Johnson is willing to include in an appropriations package for Ukraine, Taiwan, and border security is known, it’s not being reported now. Whatever the outcome of the Israel debate, it will be the first big test of the new speaker’s leadership and negotiating skills.

Senate Minority Leader McConnell has been unusually quiet about what Johnson has planned for the House and how willing he is to go along with him. The Kentuckian is no fan of Trump and seems suspicious of Johnson—whether because of something in particular or Johnson’s close alliance with his most conservative members is hard to decipher.

What’s clear, however, is the low regard he has for MAGA politics. It’s a sign of the times that Senator McConnell is considered to be among the more reasonable lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Had it not been for Kentuckian Attorney General Garland would now be Supreme Court Justice Garland. There are other hypocrisies that the senator can be tagged with; for the moment, he’s on the side of those wanting to govern.

House moderates are likely to vote with the Johnson and the far-right conservatives. They know that the House versions of the funding bills are unacceptable to both a bi-partisan majority of the Senate and the White House. Opposing legislation that never becomes law risks their standing within the Republican House conference.

The differences between the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bills will need to be reconciled within conference committee(s) made up of members from both chambers. It’s hard to imagine it being done in nine days and counting. MAGA Republicans in Congress have turned lawmaking into a three-dimensional chess game. It’s a swamp of the GOP’s making.

After three weeks of infighting, it appears that the hardline MAGA Republican House minority remains in control of the lower chamber. The question dominating Washington politics is how willing they will be to compromise with the Senate and the White House. Only time will tell. Tick Toc, tick, toc.