From "drill baby drill" to a mere footnote: House GOP tiptoe around energy, environment in a policy agenda short on details.
What a difference two years and 4.4 million barrels of spilled oil makes.
House Republicans Thursday confirmed their commitment to standing against whatever the Democrats are standing for. Despite claims from House Republican Conference Chair Mike Spence (R-Ind.) that the GOP could now be referred to as 'the party of yes' for putting forth real solutions to the critical problems this country faces, the 2010 Republican agenda,"A Pledge to America" (pdf), offers no new solutions to our growing energy problems and ignores climate and the environment altogether.
In their exceedingly brief treatment of energy, Republicans make the specific point that they will fight a "cap and trade energy tax," yet provide no alternative solutions. If that's not an example of being the party of no (i.e defining your entirely policy position to a critical problem by explaining what it is you are against), I don't know what is.
But two years ago, it was a different story. Republicans couldn't talk enough about energy. Fresh off a convention in Minneapolis that gave rise to the "drill baby drill" rallying cry, and energized by conservative Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who was being touted by her presidential runningmate as 'one of the foremost energy experts in the U.S.,' energy was one of the central political causes--if not the central political cause--for the Republican Party. And while McCain, Palin and a handful of other Republicans gave modest lip service in support of renewables, when they were talking about energy, they were talking about oil, natural gas, and especially in Senator McCain's case, nuclear power.
Republicans were not bothered by the fact that drilling hear and drilling now would have no impact on gas prices, stepping up domestic fossil fuel production was something they could rally political support for, because it was what 'real Americans' want.
Things are shaping up a bit differently during this election cycle. And judging by the brush-aside House Republicans give to energy and the environment in their vague pledge, the GOP apparently thinks the best way to handle the political ramifications of high profile energy accidents like the BP oil spill and the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine accident is to avoid talking directly to the issue.
GOP energy policy strategy: status quo
Other than two very brief mentions of a 'cap and trade energy tax'--one of which was in the context of explaining how Republicans felt slighted by a parliamentary move while Congress was working on Waxman-Markey in late 2009--"The Pledge to America" is virtually devoid of any mention of energy, the environment or the climate (and in the case of the word, "environment," the only time it appeared was to describe the "polarizing political environment" in the country today).
But if you look real carefully, buried on page 43 (the last page of substantive text), four bullet points down, The Pledge reads:
“We will fight to increase access to domestic energy sources and oppose attempts to impose a national 'cap and trade' energy tax.”
That's it. In 45 pages--which, to be fair, has nearly 22 pages of negative space, photos of iconic American places and images of Republican members of the House visiting with mostly white, mostly older groups of people--of railing against government, trumpeting family and 'American values,' tying economic growth to tax cuts and committing to a strong national defense, the Republicans buried their entire energy agenda into a single 22-word bulletpoint just inches from the end of the document. They make no mention whatsoever of the actual environmental problem a cap-and-trade program would be designed to address--or even if they accept anthropogenic global warming as a fact--let alone suggest alternative solutions. In stead, they lump cap-and-trade together with all the other taxes they vow to fight.
Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund, told Greenwire that the document remains oblivious to public opinion and mainstream science. "When it comes to energy policy, the GOP leaders actually ignore public opinion, ignore science and instead promote the same old ideas flogged by big oil lobbyists and other energy interests," he said.
It's kind of like when you were a kid and wanted to avoid some bit of information, you would cover your ears and begin sing-talking in a loud voice: "la-la-la-la-la I-can't-hear-you la-la-la-la..."
The difference between a Pledge and a Contract: details
But its not just the left or enviros that are critical of The Pledge, leading conservative pundits showed that not everyone on the right is in love with it either.
Calling it "the most ridiculous thing to come out of Washington since George McLellen," Erick Erickson of conservative blog, Red State, was particularly critical of "The Pledge," saying: "This document proves the GOP is more focused on the acquisition of power than the advocacy of long term sound public policy."
If Republicans are hoping to resurrect the spirit of Newt Gingrich's 1994 "Contract with America"--which was also released six weeks before the November mid-term elections with a sitting Democrat in the White House--and sweep into Congress on the coattails of a well crafted and clear policy agenda, they are going to fall short.
While the Contract with America offered actionable policy prescriptions, the 2010 Pledge to America fails because it spends too much time on rhetorical chest-thumping and conservative platitudes and not enough time detailing specific solutions to the critical problems this country faces today -- and as much as they want to avoid them altogether, that includes energy and climate.
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