As the White House and Capitol Hill Democrats weigh what to include in their next big legislative package, they will face competing pressures to make it more palatable to Republicans than the recent $1.9 trillion stimulus bill but also to take aim at climate change.
For most Republicans, the latter makes the former even less likely than it would otherwise be.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell issued a warning, suggesting the package would be a “Trojan horse for massive tax hikes” and environmental provisions that would kill jobs.
“Remember, the House Democrats tipped their hand last year. They published a sprawling proposal that pretended to be a highway bill but was really just a multi-thousand-page cousin of the Green New Deal,” he said Monday, referring to an ambitious outline supported by many House Democrats to eliminate net carbon emissions in the U.S. economy.
“A transportation bill needs to be a transportation bill that primarily focuses on fundamental transportation needs, such as roads and bridges. Republicans won’t support another Green New Deal disguising itself as a transportation bill,” said Rep. Sam Graves, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, after a meeting at the White House in early March.
The rhetorical shots across the bow have come even as Democratic leaders have made clear there will almost certainly be an environmental component to an infrastructure package, even as they have been cagey as to what it will be or how much of the package it will constitute.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a recent letter to her committee chairs instructed them to work with ranking members like Graves as they try to write legislation. But she also made it clear she wants some items to deal with the environment.
“As we engage in these job-creating initiatives, we must discuss their impact on the federal budget, on creating economic growth and on preserving our planet,” she wrote.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee who will have to write a budget assuming policies in a bill that could be passed with only Democratic votes, was adamant that climate change needed to be dealt with. However, he allowed some wiggle room on whether it would be in an infrastructure package passed via budget reconciliation, as was the pandemic relief bill.
“I believe in addressing climate change we can create millions of good-paying jobs making our buildings energy efficient and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy. To my mind, that’s not a debatable issue. That has to happen,” Sanders said last week.
“We haven’t figured out the best way forward. One way or another, obviously, you have to deal with climate change,” he said.
The conflict would appear to set up a rerun of the parties’ stances on the relief legislation, except instead of Republicans abstaining from voting for a popular measure with broad support because it’s too expensive, they can say they would have voted for it but for the environmental provisions.
Still, there may be more leeway than there initially appears. Sen. Mitt Romney, one of a bipartisan group of senators that meets periodically to try to hash out compromises on thorny issues, said he could see fellow Republicans supporting a few green items.
Romney said it depended on whether Democrats took the budget-reconciliation route, which would allow a bill to pass with 51 votes in the Senate. “If they decide to take the reconciliation course, they’re probably going to put in as much as they can get through the Byrd rule and may put in some Green New Deal–oriented taxes,” he said.
He said there was support in both parties to reduce greenhouse gases, and said boosting energy efficiency, encouraging farms to cut emissions and helping advance carbon-capture tech could be among the things Republicans could support. “Those kinds of things, I think, have potential,” he said.
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