Climate Politics: The View from Washington (11th Dec.)


Original appeared at Civil Notion

Climate Politics: The View from Washington (11th Dec.)

Joel Stronberg, Esq.
By Joel Stronberg, Esq. and 12/12/23

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.

It’s the last week Congress will meet before heading home for the holidays. Much like the weeks since the beginning of the current FY2024, this week’s activities on Capitol Hill will be about money and conflict politics–particularly in the Republican House conference. I’ve also added a few miscellaneous bits to keep on the radar.

Image courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA)

It’s being reported by multiple sources that House members from both parties continue to wonder where the deal between the White House and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on spending stands.  

House Speaker Johnson has indicated in a letter to the Republican conference that the Fiscal Responsibility Act is “the law of the land” that “provides the framework for spending talks. The agreement goes to the top-line amount of money Congress has to appropriate for the federal government’s business.

The uber-conservative House Freedom Caucus (HFC) and their MAGA allies are “dialing up the heat on Johnson to hold the line, demanding in a Friday (December 8th) letter that any deal on a top-line level for government funding for fiscal 2024 ‘significantly reduce total programmatic spending year-over-year.’

HFC is telling Johnson that he owes the Democrats nothing and should not be bound by the deal that former Speaker McCarthy struck with the White House. All eyes are on Johnson to see how he manages his own conference. His lack of experience may be his biggest problem here—along with the fact that he seems conflicted over where his loyalties as Speaker of the House of Representatives lie—to the party or the country?

Final appropriation decisions won’t be made until after the new year when the second session of the 118th Congress begins. The possibility of a full or partial government is real. The Democrats still believe that any shutdown—or even the appearance of continued chaos in the House—benefits them come election time. The message will be Republicans can’t govern.

The Democrats’ current message is offered up by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI).”

A deal is a deal. I think there’s no way we’re going to get an appropriations deal if people can’t hold to their commitments.

Freedom Caucus members are making noises much like those they made before McCarthy was ousted from the speaker’s chair. The ubers hated the McCarthy-Biden deal for two reasons. First, there were no significant cuts in discretionary spending. Second, the deal was passed with the help of the Democrats.

The mantra of the ubers is we don’t vote with the Democrats! From the moment McCarthy made his first bipartisan deal, he was branded a heretic to the far-right cause.

Johnson has already shown a willingness to work across the aisle—the continuing resolution (CR) keeping the government open passed by a vote of 336 to 95. More Democrats than Republicans voted for it.

Johnson has been doing what he can to show he’s still a member of the far-right club. He’s going along with efforts to impeach Biden and has now endorsed Trump in 2024. However, none of what the speaker has been doing in this regard will keep his conservative credentials current if he doesn’t bust the agreement that McCarthy made. Although he’s unlikely to be ousted anytime soon, it doesn’t mean his far-right members will follow his lead.

Whatever Johnson does, there’s turbulence ahead. The first appropriations deadline in the CR is January 19th, and the second is February 2nd. A rolling shutdown is a strong possibility if no congressional and presidential action is taken. If the House ubers don’t get their way, they appear ready to shut the government down just to show they can. In the meantime, the Senate is waiting on House action.

There are several other elephant-sized issues guaranteed to launch partisan battles over the coming month(s), including funding for Ukraine, Israel, Gaza (humanitarian), and Asia, as well as border security.

Republicans in both chambers want to tie significant immigration reform to these other issues. The administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill want to bundle them to provide cover for less popular expenditures, e.g., Ukraine. President Biden has indicated a willingness to compromise on border security—whether the Republicans are is still an unanswered question.

Other things in the mix should be factored into any predictions of what’s around the corner in January. Former Speaker McCarthy is scheduled to resign at the end of this year. Coupled with the departure of George Santos, it makes an already thin GOP majority thinner. Another Republican is leaving in February to go to academia. (See here for more details.)

House Republicans voted to launch a formal impeachment inquiry against President Biden. The vote was along party lines with 221 Republicans voting in support with 212 Democrats in opposition. Leaders of the effort are expecting a host of legal challenges and thought it wise to begin a formal inquiry. To-date, there appears to be no evidence suggesting that Mr. Biden has done anything worthy of impeachment.

Any efforts of House Republicans to impeach Biden will keep the pot boiling. So far, no evidence supporting the various alleged claims has been found. It doesn’t mean the Democrats will be any easier to deal with.

The House Freedom has a new chairman. Representative Bod Good (R-VA) is its new leader. Good has endorsed DeSantis for president. The former president is unlikely to ignore that fact. Look for it to complicate Johnson’s efforts to control his conference.

Climate-related issues and events.

Should the final appropriation numbers be closer to the Senate than the House, many, if not the overwhelming majority, of the current climate and clean energy programs will continue as they are, with major new regulations being proposed, e.g., power plant auto emissions.

The administration has been very aggressive in getting climate-related funds, e.g., from the Inflation Reduction Act, the infrastructure, and the CHIPS and Science bills, out the door and into the hands of the states. Money spent can’t be returned.

However, it will be difficult for the administration to make good on any new commitments, e.g., making good on any dollar contributions agreed to at COP28, e.g., the $3 billion for the Green Climate Fund.

In ESG news. According to CNBC, “a House panel subpoenaed The Vanguard Group and Arjuna Capital [it’s] the latest step in its yearlong investigation into whether investment funds’ environmental, social and governance policies violate antitrust laws.” 

Vanguard and Arjuna are investment firms offering funds focused on environmentally friendly businesses. The chair of the Judiciary Committee, Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), claims the firms “have entered into collusive agreements to ‘decarbonize’ its assets under management and reduce emissions to net zero in ways that may violate U.S. antitrust law.”

A taxing situation. Industry and advocacy groups are calling for changes to a carbon sequestration tax credit, otherwise known as “45Q,” citing gaps in federal policy that could threaten the rollout of the nascent technology.

Led by the Carbon Capture Coalition –companies are” calling for “small-scale” changes to the tax credit, which works to incentivize investment into carbon capture and sequestration projects.”  It’s being argued missing elements within the provision could” impede the economy-wide deployment of these technologies.”

COP28 and the GOP. A Republican delegation showed up over the weekend at the UN climate summit. As reported by The Hill, “Republicans say they want to show both Americans and the world that gas, nuclear, and mining can be climate solutions.”

Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL), who chaired the no longer Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, appeared to have doubts about Republican intentions. Castor expressed her hope that they were “in the spirit” of the summit. 

Things on the radar.

The Hill is reporting that “some of the House’s most high-profile progressives are facing a growing primary threat next year over their position on the Israel-Hamas war.” Jamal Bowman (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) are among them. Could AOC be next?

Who looks to win the special election to fill the seat left vacant by George Santos, who has been drummed out of the House for multiple ethics violations? Before Santos, there was Tom Suozzi (D-NY), now the Democratic candidate. Should Suozzi win, it would shift a vote to the Democratic House conference.

According to a Politico reporter, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) might not care if he sinks Biden. The senator’s brand of centrism helped him survive West Virginia’s rapid transformation from blue to red. Manchin isn’t running for re-election. He’s decided to pursue other interests—like possibly running for president as the No Labels candidate. In the meantime, look for him to wield a sword against anything he considers too progressive.

Members of Congress are calling it quits. According to Ballotpedia, 31 members of the House (10Rs, 21Ds) and 7 (2Rs, 5Ds) in the Senate have indicated they wouldn’t be standing for election in 2024. Many cite the impossibility of governing in this age of hyperpartisanship as their reason.

And that’s it for this edition of Climate Policy: The View from Washington.