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Like health care, climate policy could tip elections

Posted on 11 December 2018 by dana1981

In the November 2018 midterm elections, Democrats won the U.S. House of Representatives popular vote by a margin of about 8.6 percent and gained 40 seats in that chamber. For perspective, President Obama won his convincing 2008 and 2012 elections by 7.2 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively. While Republicans increased their Senate hold in 2018 by two seats and strengthened their majority control, they won races only in states that had voted for Donald Trump for President in 2016, and Republican Senate candidates lost races in eight states that Trump had won.

It was a decisive “Blue Wave” election, and when asked what they considered the most important issue in exit polls, 41 percent of voters listed health care, and three-quarters of those voted for Democrats. That was the issue Democrats campaigned most heavily on in 2018, and it helped sweep them back into power in the House. And some eerie similarities are emerging between health care and climate change in the American political landscape.

Republicans have rejected compromise

When the Obama administration took office in 2009, its three highest priorities were passing a stimulus package to pull America out of the Great Recession, implementing health care reform, and tackling climate change. President Obama set out to negotiate with congressional Republicans on all three.

For example, Obama agreed to a much smaller stimulus than he earlier had wanted, and one that was significantly cheaper than the tax cut Republicans passed in 2017 during strong economic conditions.

On health care, Democrats – albeit often with reluctance and only in the face of insurmountable opposition – cast aside their preference for universal health care or even a public option. They lent support instead to a more conservative policy based on “Romneycare,” named after 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s approach in Massachusetts. (Romney in November was elected to the U.S. Senate from Utah.) Despite Democrats’ efforts to seek a health care compromise, no Senate Republicans voted for the legislation, and congressional Republicans subsequently tried 70 times to repeal, modify or otherwise curb the Affordable Care Act.

With that history, many Democrats appear to have grown tired of trying to protect Obamacare as it now stands, and party leaders are lending support to some version of Medicare-for-all.

In short, Republican lawmakers rejected a conservative health care policy solution, and they have been unable to come up with and pass a preferred alternative. Their constituents’ concerns over health care cost many congressional Republicans in the 2018 elections. And now they see an incoming Democratic majority in the House, come January 3, embracing a more liberal government-based policy approach over the more market-based compromise solution.

Health care and climate similarities

The similarities between health care and climate policymaking are striking. In 2009, House Democrats also had chosen to advance a compromise climate policy solution in cap-and-trade. It was an approach favored at that time by another recent Republican presidential candidate – in this case, 2008 nominee Senator John McCain (R-AZ). And cap-and-trade too, in the late-1980s, was originally a conservative invention, championed by then-President George H.W. Bush to tackle the problem of acid rain.

But once again, the compromise proposal faced overwhelming opposition from Republican lawmakers. Just eight of 178 Republicans voted in favor of the cap-and-trade bill that House Democrats passed, and the issue was never brought up for a vote on the Senate floor for fear of a Republican filibuster.

On climate change, Republicans have another chance

As with health care, many liberals appear tired of pursuing compromise policy solutions on climate change only to be rewarded with what they see as obstruction from Republican lawmakers. Many Democrats are now instead championing a “Green New Deal”: details have yet to be fleshed out, but it would involve a vast government intervention in support of green technologies and would thus be far less compatible with conservative, libertarian, or “free-market” principles.

And, again, as with health care, many Democrats see climate change as a winning issue for them. According to the latest “Climate Change in the American Mind” survey datafrom Yale and George Mason, 62 percent of Americans are worried about climate change, up from 51 percent five years ago. This number even includes 55 percent of liberal/moderate Republicans. As temperatures continue to rise and as climate impacts like California’s record wildfires grow yet more severe, we can expect voters to increasingly demand policy solutions. In a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 15 percent of Democrats said climate change should be the new Congress’ top priority, statistically tied for second with the economy and gun control, behind only – you guessed it – health care.

The GOP is thus left with two options. Republicans can continue to cede the issue to Democrats, possibly hurting their election chances and leading to growing support for a more activist ultimate policy solution; or they can throw their support behind free market, small government policy solutions.

A few House Republicans, in the days immediately after the November election “wave,” have chosen the latter path. Representatives Francis Rooney (R-FL), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Dave Trott (R-MI) have co-sponsored a revenue-neutral carbon tax bill with Democrats Ted Deutch (D-FL), Charlie Crist (D-FL), John Delaney (D-MD), and Anna Eshoo (D-CA). The legislation mirrors the fee-and-dividend proposal by the grassroots organization Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

It would implement an aggressively rising carbon tax with 100 percent of the revenue returned to Americans via monthly dividend checks. The bill would prohibit EPA carbon pollution regulations as long as strict emissions reductions targets are met, which should please conservatives. The equal distribution of revenue rebates to all individuals is a progressive tax policy that would protect low-income households from higher energy bills, which should please liberals. A 2014 study found that under such a policy, American carbon pollution would fall by 33 percent after only 10 years and by 52 percent after 20 years, while having a modestly beneficial impact on the economy.

Proponents defend it as a smart, effective, compromise climate change solution.

Is compromise still possible?


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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. The way I see it you have a core group of Republicans who basically reject the whole idea of universal healthcare in principle, they reject publicly funded social security and they are deeply opposed to taxation and government regulation of business and environment. All the evidence points this way because they undermine all these things as much as they can get away with . It's the unfortunate Ayn Randian underbelly, and it mixes ideology and greed together.

    Whats more it was not always this way, not to this degree: Article on how the GOP has come to reject environmentalism and a rules based approach to environmental concerns.

    This group wield power. Republicans have gerrymandered election districts, and used scaremongering to get their way, and then there is the influence of corporate money in politics. They have ignored the views of the public, where the majority want some form of universal healthcare, a carbon tax etc. Polling clearly shows this, so to me the Republicans are being utterly undemocratic.

    So you have the republicans holding the country as a hostage. What makes it particularly galling is the lack of logic of many of the Republican ideas and their dismissal of evidence and science based policy.

    Like you say the Democrats have tried compromise and have tried being nice and have been walked over. One cannot blame them for taking a stronger position and it will force the Republicans hand.

    However governments can't fix every problem in society so pick your causes logically, and the Republicans are not wrong on every issue, for example it doesn't make sense to let just any immigrants into the country, or uncontrolled numbers (although I personally favour immigration for all the usual reasons). Democrats need to avoid the temptation to oppose every Republican idea, just for the sake of payback. But good article.

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  2. The results would have likely been much greater if there had been an even playing field in many US states.

    Due to GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression Democrat candidates oftern start with a -8 point deficit in many districts. This can really been seen at the state level in the popular vote compared to the election results.

    I think it was Wisconsin where 53% of voters cast their ballots for Democrat candidates and only 45% for GOP candidates. Yet the Democrats only won 34% of the state senate seats and the GOP won 64% with independents making up the balance.

    There is actually far more support for socially and environmentally sustainable policy in the US that is marginalized by GOP tactics at multiple levels.

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  3. Some polling of interest: : "Around 4 in 10 approve of the way the president (Trump) is handling immigration (39 per cent approve), foreign trade (39 per cent approve) and foreign affairs (36 per cent approve)." Interestingly, the president's climate-change denialism is especially unpopular; only 31 per cent approve of his handling of environmental policy."


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  4. Climate change seems to have saturated the news for quite a while, I mean there is enough detail for most voters to have made up their minds, so they no longer read techical articles. It interests voters as much as disco music by now. Sure, they will vote for the candidate that has the same opinion as they. But it is low down on the list. Even my Democrat friends (about 90% of the people I realte to) have put all of the Trump items as the top ones to "change back."

    The problem seems to be that they cannot "feel it in their bones." My denialist "fiend" in Finland said exactly that. I asked him if he would be able to tell if it is -22C or -20C outside, just by standing outside. He had no answer. Right wingers have usually some small government preferece so studies paid for by any government as suspect.

    The other thing these people want to debate is electric cars. They show how much CO2 is spent making one. I have no idea where these numbers come from as they do not show the calculations.

    Taxes on carbon is an issue that seems to be postponed to the after Trump era. More likely we are going to get incentives passed in the mean time. You can persuade Republicans that tax cuts for alternative energy are a good idea, especially for a business in their own state. My state has public utilities, and they might convert old coal plants, but will not tear them down. State income tax is so low that building power plants is a major drain on state funds. On the city and county level we have managed some solar and wind power units. This comes in when courting a Google or Amazon or other high tech company unit (centers of regional use) to build in their city. They make those demands on power.

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  5. I named my denialist "friend" above as "fiend", it was a typo. Not entirely wrond.

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  6. EsaJii @4

    "I mean there is enough detail for most voters to have made up their minds, so they no longer read techical articles."

    I do understand your point and its tempting to think that people do have enough detail, but it's not really the case surprisingly. Media coverage of climate change in America has been superficial and of variable quality, full of denialist propaganda.

    Climate change is badly taught in schools in America according to research.

    The level of igorance about climate science is huge as in this research.

    And what are you doing reading a technical article? And how would you know how many articles people read?

    "Even my Democrat friends (about 90% of the people I realte to) have put all of the Trump items as the top ones to "change back."

    Remember the electorate has expressed huge concern over his environmental policies as in my comment above so these might be at the top of the list to change back.

    "I asked him if he would be able to tell if it is -22C or -20C outside, just by standing outside. He had no answer. "

    Obviously nobody can reliably tell the difference between a couple of degress without a thermometer, but that won't stop ice sheets melting.

    " Right wingers have usually some small government preferece so studies paid for by any government as suspect."

    This is just a crazy attitude with all due respect. So what are they going to do, completely ignore science despite the fact it essentially powers their lives? ! Obviously studies by oil companies are virtually worthless because of massive conflict of interest.

    "They show how much CO2 is spent making one. I have no idea where these numbers come from as they do not show the calculations."

    Ever thought why they are reluctant to release calculations? It's possibly becuase the denialists attack them, make false allegations about them, cherrpick material out of context, nit pick, exaggerate problems, and cast yet more doubt. The denialist community are mostly not after the facts and are not interested in proper process or fair minded debate.

    "Taxes on carbon is an issue that seems to be postponed to the after Trump era"

    Why? The democrats control congress so it could be back on the agenda. Its going to depend on sentiment in the senate, and it could possibly go with a carbon tax. They don't know until they try.

    "Republicans that tax cuts for alternative energy are a good idea, especially for a business in their own state"

    This is a bad idea economically. Because of Trump's ill advised tax cuts that were never needed, America now has a balloning deficit and growing federal debt so more tax cuts are no longer feasible.

    "State income tax is so low that building power plants is a major drain on state funds. "

    Well raise income tax or perhaps have an infrastructure levy so it actually funds basic infrastructure. Do you expect new infrastructure to appear out of nothing? You need new roads and 21st century sustainable electricity generation as well as buying cars and expresso machines etcetera. Sigh.

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  7.  EsaJii @4

    "The problem seems to be that they cannot "feel it in their bones." My denialist "fiend" in Finland said exactly that. I asked him if he would be able to tell if it is -22C or -20C outside, just by standing outside. He had no answer. Right wingers have usually some small government preferece so studies paid for by any government as suspect."

    That's a misrepresentation of what global warming forced climate change will do. It's not a slight warming everywhere that has little discernible impact, it is an increase of the global average temperature that has catastrophic impacts at the local level.

    Like 86 people being killed by the Camp Fire and almost 20,000 buildings destroyed. It's killer heat waves that are ten times more common now and that can kill thousands. Or years long droughts that can help trigger wars that kill hundreds of thousands and send millions fleeing for their lives.

    As for your denier "friend" in Finland, it's not a slight warming he should be concerned about now. Due to the large amount of melting fresh water off the Greenland ice sheet, global warming is already desreceasing the ocean currents that warm much of northern Europe. While the rest of the world warms, places like Finland could experience a drop in temperature.

    What climate change means is chaotic weather conditions for decades or possible centuries that are already deadly.

    Pretty sure the humans who were vapourized by the intense heat of the Camp and other other fires felt it in their bones. And when half the North American continent is covered in smoke from fires tied directly to climate change and we're getting smoke here from wildfires in Siberia due to the same then how out of touch with reality itself do people have to be to not get the link and the risk.

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  8. "Well raise income tax or perhaps have an infrastructure levy so it actually funds basic infrastructure. Do you expect new infrastructure to appear out of nothing?"

    That sort of thinking seems to have fallen back into the last century. It now seems that 4 years is all Americans are willing to plan. The polticis here is sort of a pendulum of about 8 years. Whatever Democrats achieve is erased by the next Republican congress. On top of that, I live in a Red state and it took a state wide referendum to add for instance Medicaid expansion. The governor is still dragging his heels. As I mentioned the only progress we have on the environment is county or city level. 

    The statements I made about cars and the 2 degree guy are the denialists', and their level on understanding. "It does not feel warm" is what they are capable of. Bever mind that the winter has warmed more than summer in Finland. Every cold week in summer is followed by screams of "there is no warming." Most of them are found at this address, though I knew two from before that.

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  9. EsaJii @8, good comment. I thought you were a denialist yourself, just the way you worded a couple of things, but you are not.

    The interesting thing is temperatures have increased more in winter in some places,  and also at nights, as a general rule. This doesn't lessen the problem, but might make it less easy to perceive given we sleep through the night. However very hot nights are really bad for your health because the body doesn't shut down properly.

    I understand the reality in America that Republicans are determined to undo democrats policies. From what I have read they now appear to want to undo all the reforms going right back to the new deal. Seems absolutely crazy to me, and I'm not hard leftist, but thats just my opinion. Whats undeniable is it is not what the American people want according to numerous polls and its just not right to ignore the majority like that especially when theres no hard evidence to dismiss public opinion.

    Like you say things are more in the hands of the States. This might even be appropriate for some things, but it doesn't make so much sense for the environment, because environmental issues don't respect borders and having 50 different sets of standards is inefficient. In my country we are going in the opposite direction to one central government set of environmental standards, although it was a battle getting there, as the conservative leaning party preferred to leave it local.

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  10. Nigel, I've spent years discussing all kinds of topics on the net in Finnish. The quality has gone down thru the years, but I do have a few places left, mainly to keep up my FInnish. These climate deniers are an annoying bunch, only one has a sense of humor.

    One discussion involved the typical handling of solar rays falling on the planet, watts per square meter etc. Then we add the radiation going back from greeen hous gases, as well as out to space. So not all goes back. One of them said I was cheating ( I quoted some article in English), as "now the sun is sending more than 100% of its radiation to the earth!" I made him then think of them as separate sources. One, the sun with visibel light. Two, a different source (working even at night), the green house gases. He got that much and half way agreed. So we get extra radiation to the surface. A day goes by. "What about the IR radiation, from those green house gases. Does that reflect back to the sky?" Me: Yes. "Well, you are cheating again, you are still going over 100%!". I gave up, I did not respond, half way guessing that this cycle would be small after a few iterations.

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  11. EsaJii @10

    I have had a few similar conversations with denialists. It's very frustrating and goes on and on, and they keep moving the goal posts.

    I would sum it up by saying we all have some natural  healthy scepticism,  but scepticism is on a spectrum, and can morph into a form of lunacy. Some people are just antagonistic for the sake of it, or get influenced by political motives, and if they are not very smart this makes it a whole lot worse.

    Many denialists are a lost cause, but I respond sometimes in the hope I might convince one or two, or other people listening / reading and because its mentally stimulating. You like to practice finnish. All good I think.

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  12. And yes just to wrap this up, your denialist did have a sense of humour. A real comedian. Perhaps some of the denialism is  expressed as  making fun of science, or being antagonistic,  basically as attention seeking. I would say keep the jokes for "live at the apollo", and after smoking you know what.  

    But its the shifting of goal posts that really annoys me. So for example basically someone raises some sceptical point, and you counter it, they ignore your comment and raise another point, on and on until the end point is reached, which is usually inevitably "its all lies" or "its all a left wing conspiracy". In other words, they have a temper tantrum.

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  13. How would you describe a country where every elected office is up for grabs to the highest bidder, where gerrymandering is rife, where avarice at all costs – including destruction of the environment - is lauded and where appointments to the Bench and Court decisions can be politically motivated?

    Would you say that country was the worlds’ leading democracy, the guardian of the ‘free world’ – the land of the free doing things in an exemplary ‘American Way’? Well no, it is none of those things. It is of course the USA to-day, a country increasingly derided for its practices and pretentions - a country which has inherited and sought to preserve the worst failings of 18th century Britain.

    Should we blame the GOP or Trump for this state of affairs? No. We should blame those who voted them into office, who so avidly support all that they espouse, all that is rotten and corrupt in America – and which has the potential to destroy climate stability, the economy and ultimately, human habitat and civilisation.

    Because science has failed to persuade the American electorate of the dangers posed by their support for GOP policies and practices, the task is left to climate change. As the severity and frequency of climate events increases, as the cost of damage they cause becomes prohibitive, as now seems inevitable, the electorate will opt for reform of the country’s worst excesses.

    The problem for America and the rest of the world is that by the time climate deterioration becomes so damaging as to force change in America, it may no longer be possible to stave-off catastrophic effects of climate change in other parts of the of the world.

    Bearing that possibility in mind, we should remember that the USA is not the worst contributor to growing climate instability. China is. So is Russia, India and some EU counties.

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