“This is an appetizer,” says Democratic Senator of Hawaii Brian Schatz. “It’s not the main course.”
I understand it — politics is complicated and confusing. We’d all like politics to be a simple, straightforward process. The people want something? Politicians should vote it into law! Unfortunately, that’s not how our political system was set up — in the USA, or practically anywhere. Our political system in the US was specifically designed to slow down change, to make any significant change jump over various hurdles, dig under fences, and survive battering rams (metaphorically).
All of that said, our system today is quite broken, not the ideal that was envisioned, which makes progress even harder. There’s far too much political tribalism (more so from one side than the other, but we won’t go there today) and certain powerful people have even decided to use tools that were put in place for other purposes to block popular legislation that would get through the original system as it was planned.
As a result, other powerful people have worked to find innovative, clever solutions past those hurdles, fences, battering rams, and extra tricks that have been set up to block progress.
I’ve probably already made the eyes of my target readership glaze over at this point. It would be nice to be able to say goodbye, but they probably already closed this tab a minute ago. Well, let’s move on and try to get to the point of today anyway.
Without getting deep, deep, deep into the weeds, this is what’s going on with cleantech and climate legislation on the US federal level right now:
- Most Democrats want to pass the strongest cleantech and climate support legislation possible.
- A few Democrats and pretty much all Republicans do not.
- Most Republicans want the opposite, and some of the politicians in the “middle” just want unflavored buckwheat and a side of meh.
- However, after doing nothing for 90% of the population for the past 10+ years, even anti-progress politicians in the House and Senate feel like they should finally do something about roads and bridges. They at least need to be able to go home and have one project they can point to as something they got done.
- The solutions Democrats in charge have come up with is to pass a bland infrastructure bill that gets some Republican votes and a tiny amount of what they actually want, and then also pass a much stronger “reconciliation bill” that actually delivers on the cleantech and climate solutions they know we need. The few “moderate” Democrats who are overly obsessed with “bipartisan” theatrics will reportedly go along with the latter in exchange for the former. This has been the goal for months, but it has been a long and difficult process to get enough “moderates” (who are more aptly labeled extremists on various topics) fully on board. It seemed like we were there about a month ago, but then some people didn’t like the messaging* on this two-part play and everything went back a few steps.
- In short: the weak-sauce EV policies in the infrastructure bill that politicians are by necessity cheering are not the real, serious, market-boosting EV policies that Democrats have been working so hard to get passed. Those come in the reconciliation bill.
The short short version: stop moaning about the straw man and be happy that a good portion of the Democratic Party is people working their asses off doing the annoying grind of US politics in the midst of a ton of anti-democratic extremists in order to get EVs and other climate solutions more support. Push for strong EV policies, but don’t attack the people doing the same — call out the political thugs who are obsessed with putting up blocks and barriers to EV progress.
Disclosure: All of that said, we certainly have no guarantee of success here. There’s the risk that stubborn wishy-washers who have been the target of much negotiation for months will agree to something and then flip backwards at the last minute. Until the votes are in, count on nothing. Recall that if dying John McCain hadn’t blocked Republicans a few years ago, they would have killed the Affordable Care Act and through tens of millions of people off of health insurance. His one vote surprised Trump, McConnell, and others and stopped that from happening when Republicans controlled the House, Senate, and White House. That said, Democrats got HUGE recovery bills through Congress earlier this year — far more support for common people than most of us assumed possible — and there has been optimism in general that they can break through the coal-covered heart of Joe Manchin and the … well, who the heck knows what’s wrong with Kyrsten Sinema?
Call to action: If you really want to moan and complain about lack of legislation at this point in the year, don’t take your frustration out on Biden, who’s been trying as hard as anyone to get a big, signature legislation package through Congress. The legacy of his presidency and his whole life rests quite heavily on whether this happens, and he knows it. He’s not going to go down as a great president if Congress does nothing for 4 years. The people who need to feel the heat from as many people as possible are Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and Republicans in the US Senate.
* For those who don’t know the history here and would like to know it, what was finally accomplished was that key politicians had made a deal to pass the infrastructure bill (total weak sauce) and reconciliation package (as hot as hot gets in DC) at the same time, with both having to be on Joe Biden’s desk at the same time. The point was that would protect progressives from having the rug pulled out from underneath them at the last minute, resulting in only a super bland infrastructure bill. However, as people (including Biden and some top members of Congress) started explaining that in the media, some of the Republicans who were seemingly key to the deal acted like they had never heard of any of this before and apparently crippled the whole effort and threw it in the closet. The question is whether this was their plan all along to waste time and set up a fatal trap, whether they just got slammed by some of their constituents and extreme right-wing media and had to step back, or there really was some kind of disastrous negotiation and communication at play. I would bet on the cause being #1 (which follows the GOP’s playbook of the past 2+ decades) or #2 (which I think is the most likely, but it’s hard to say).
Featured image: US Capitol building, home of US Congress. Photo by Wendy Maxwell from Pexels.