Third Way Perspectives
Posts Tagged ‘Congress’
May 15th, 2013
Energy policy is difficult to move, in part because there’s really no such thing as a “must-pass” energy bill. It doesn’t carry the same urgency or institutionalized process as certain annual taxing and spending bills, and it certainly doesn’t generate the same passion in the electorate as health care, immigration, or other social policy priorities. Let’s face it…energy policy is the stowaway, not the train. You can slip a discrete energy policy into a larger vehicle, as we saw with the PTC’s inclusion in the fiscal cliff deal. But building a large, comprehensive energy bill in this political era is basically the equivalent of a dozen stowaways standing by the tracks deciding to tie themselves together. Good luck with that, guys.
Recent movement of hydropower and efficiency bills, along with bipartisan support for master limited partnerships and ARPA-E, has shown us the potential for passing targeted energy legislation in this Congress. Perhaps these particular issues are unique in that they tend to gin up relatively little controversy. But an incremental and targeted approach can be effective with contentious policies as well. Returning to our earlier example, the PTC for wind has become a target of hyper-conservative groups in recent years. Yet a significant block of Republican lawmakers, including tea party favorites like Steve King and freshman class president Kristi Noem supported the extension. To be precise, they actually FOUGHT for it, pressuring their leadership and colleagues to move the provision. Focusing solely on the PTC for wind allowed geography to trump partisanship. This prioritizing of parochial issues over political ideology is a well-known phenomenon in energy policy, and it has often provided opportunities for compromise and progress in Congress. But the influence of the “geography effect” is diminished once the policy in question is merged with others that are of less interest or that present a conflict for lawmakers.
For the House and Senate, the strategy that seems to be showing the most promise is to keep it simple (and practical), stupid. Smart policy initiatives will minimize variables that give lawmakers a reason (or an excuse) to vote against clean energy interests that matter to folks back home. And they will take advantage of unique coalitions that each individual issue can bring to the table based on geography, local economies, etc. Legislators can also encourage the Administration to continue its use of executive orders to increase efficiency and clean energy procurement within federal agencies, and to pursue collaborations with industry to iron-out regulatory hurdles that could slow the adoption of clean technologies.
The bottom line is, there is plenty to be done. It just can’t be done all at once. So pick your spot on the apple and start taking a bite.
This piece was originally published in the National Journal Energy Experts Blog.
March 11th, 2013
President Obama and his Republican dining companions showed last week that bipartisan schmoozing is back. Whether bipartisan deal-making will follow is anyone’s guess. But if it does, there are reasons to believe tax reform will be on the menu.
The most visible movement on tax reform is in the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) last week announced that the bill name “H.R. 1” would be reserved for tax reform. Traditionally, House speakers have given that title to bills that are among their top priorities. Consider some of the recent bills with that name: the stimulus package of 2009 and the Medicare prescription drug law of 2003.
The H.R. 1 designation signals the end of an internal Republican dispute over whether to proceed with tax reform. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-OH) previously advised the party to avoid the issue, because its progress could require votes on controversial topics like the mortgage and charitable deductions. But now, with Boehner’s blessing, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) has a green light to pursue his priority issue.
February 20th, 2013
This piece was originally featured on Reuters.
More than 25 years ago, Representative Jack Kemp told me, “In the past, the left had a thesis: spending, redistribution of wealth and deficits. Republicans were the antithesis: spending is bad.”
He went on to explain, “Ronald Reagan represented a breakthrough for our party. We could talk about lower taxes and more growth. We didn’t have to spend all our time preaching austerity and spending cuts. The question now is: Do we take our thesis and move it further, or do we revert to an anti-spending party?”
We now have the answer. Republicans have reverted to an anti-spending party. Their latest cause? Austerity. Their argument? A shrinking economy is better than big government.
President Barack Obama tried to call the Republicans’ bluff in his State of the Union Address. “Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan,” the president said. He didn’t come out against deficit reduction. He said it should not be given a higher priority than economic growth. There are many reasons why it is important to reduce the national debt. Short-term economic growth is not one of them.