To supporters it has always been the Green New Deal—or GND—a mass mobilization to address climate change by putting people to work reducing the nation’s climate footprint.
But Republican opponents have offered their own shorthand. They’ve called it a “socialist” dystopian plan, one that’s “tantamount to genocide.” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) dismissed it as “a completely unrealistic and enormously expensive and impractical nightmare.”
Name-calling serves a strategic purpose for Republicans, who, in eyeing the 2020 election, hope to use the Green New Deal to cement the idea that Democrats have swerved too far left and jeopardized control of the House after their 2018 takeover.
GOP members are betting that many of the GND’s Democratic backers—including six senators running for president—may regret they signed onto a deal that could be seen as too extreme in rural and swing districts that may decide the White House’s next resident.
President Donald Trump sees the green deal as a political winner. At a March 26 luncheon with senators, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) later told reporters that Trump said: “Make sure you don’t kill it too much, because I want to run against it.”
‘Part of the Political Lexicon’
“It’s become part of the political lexicon strongly enough that I’m sure the president will attack the Democratic nominee over it” in 2020, Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which analyzes elections, told Bloomberg Environment.
Any Democratic nominee opposing Trump will likely be forced to respond with a serious climate platform, even if they don’t endorse the green deal, Kondik said. “Whether it would play in a general election remains to be seen,” he added.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the plan’s most outspoken champion, predicted voters will see through Republicans’ hyperbole. She said at a March 29 town hall meeting that she expected GOP criticism, “but I didn’t expect them to make total fools of themselves.”
Republicans may have the Green New Deal in the crosshairs now, but their central points—that Democrats are pursuing radical climate actions that will raise energy costs and hurt the economy—are likely a dry run for broader attacks on House climate legislation, said Tiernan Sittenfeld, the League of Conservation Voters’ senior vice president of government affairs.
It echoes Republican attacks on cap and trade legislation backed by the Obama administration nearly a decade ago, when they helped sink a bill they branded a “light switch tax” that would raise utility bills.
That derogatory message wasn’t the sole reason that Republicans were able to win back control of the House in the 2010 midterm election.
The message did appear to gain more prominence in news and opinion-page accounts than the Democratic argument that their cap-and-trade legislation to address climate change would only have a modest affect on consumers, according to a 2012 study by a University of Colorado, Boulder graduate student.
The idea that the bill would raise energy costs showed up in 33 percent of all news articles and more than one-quarter of all opinion pieces, the study found. A Congressional Budget Office report showing an average net cost of only $175 a year appeared in just 15 percent of news articles and 19 percent of opinion pieces.
Worsening climate impacts in the decade since, including increasingly severe weather events, suggest Republicans risk appearing to obstruct policies to combat the growing threat “even as people looking out the window and seeing impacts worsen every day,” Sittenfeld said.
“Polling shows there is tremendous support for combating the climate crisis,” she said, with support for the Green New Deal and renewable energy “extremely high” in early primary states for the 2020 election.
Those in Congress “standing in the way of climate action are doing so at their political peril,” she said.
Some Attacks Backfire
The Green New Deal calls for a “10-year national mobilization” on climate, moving the U.S. to 100 percent renewable energy over a decade and decarbonizing entire sectors of the U.S. economy, from transportation and agriculture to manufacturing—all while providing millions of new jobs and health care for all.
Occasionally, attacks have backfired. Top House Natural Resources Republican Rob Bishop (R-Utah) drew laughs in February for unwrapping a hamburger that he said would be “outlawed” if the Green New Deal became the law of the land.
Bishop’s next jab, at a March 14 press event, may have missed the mark when he called the platform “tantamount to genocide,” though he quickly added his comment was “maybe an overstatement. But not by a lot.”
He said he now regrets the genocide comment, partly because his comment torpedoed the House GOP leadership’s attempt to orchestrate talking points attacking the green deal.
If Bishop had to do it over again? He’d “maybe grab another hamburger and eat it” instead of referencing mass murder, he said.
Green New Deal backers say such attacks prove their point: Congress and Trump are only protecting the fossil fuel sector and ignoring increased warnings about the steep costs and damage created by climate change.
“This is urgent, and to think that we have time is such a privileged and removed-from-reality attitude that we cannot tolerate,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
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