It’s simultaneously something to celebrate and to lament.
I’m talking here about the climate and health care package that just passed the US Senate and should come to a House vote on Friday. It ranks as the biggest thing this country has ever done on global warming and has the power to be transformative. From transportation to power generation to personal residences, it should catalyze a big shift green-ward for this country — and that will be done through incentives, not mandates.
Giving Medicare the ability to use its heft to negotiate lower drug prices is a popular idea that will eventually result in lower costs for seniors. The higher subsidies for the Affordable Care Act, meanwhile, will keep good coverage within reach of those who buy insurance on the exchanges.
Getting this done under filibuster-sidestepping budget-reconciliation rules was a herculean challenge, since it required all 50 Democrats, plus the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, to carry the bill across the finish line.
So for those who believe that quality affordable health care is something every American deserves and who have followed the science on global warming and recognize its predicted effects occurring even now, this is a time to feel very good about what’s been accomplished.
But it’s also an appropriate moment to ask this question: Why should advancing important legislation that enjoys bipartisan public support be the work of one party? Why should Senate Republicans align universally against it?
Start with health care. If Democrats had imposed a single-payer system, with the elimination of insurance companies, and with the federal government essentially setting prices that hospitals could charge for various procedures, it would be one thing. But the ACA was based on the Massachusetts Health Care Reform Law, aka Romneycare, the legislation pushed by Republican Mitt Romney during his time as the Commonwealth’s governor. At its passage, it was hailed by the Heritage Foundation and praised by noted conservatives nationwide.
Which is why Barack Obama decided to go a similar route with his national plan: The president believed it would be possible to generate bipartisan congressional consensus for such a private-insurance-based plan. And yet, once Obama had given that approach his imprimatur, we soon saw it blasted as a socialist takeover of health care. Repealing it — or, failing that, undermining it — became a Republican imperative.
After years of failure on that front, capped by their dramatic 2017 Senate defeat, Republicans finally seem to realize the ACA is here to stay. So why not help improve it? Two-thirds of all voters favor an extension of the current subsidies, as did a plurality of Republicans, with 49 percent in favor compared to 33 percent who were opposed.
Now to global warming. The science on human-caused climate change is clear and has been for several decades. It was clear enough to persuade candidate George H.W. Bush to vow to use “the White House effect” to battle “the greenhouse effect,” though he dragged his feet once in office. It was clear enough that Republican presidential nominee John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade plan when he ran in 2008.
In other nations, and particularly in Europe, tackling climate change has engaged the efforts of both left and right. As a result, the United States has, until now, been one of the few countries where the major conservative party rejects the imperative to address global warming.
“It is only in the United States that there’s substantial debate about whether climate change is a serious threat,” said Kelly Sims Gallagher, academic dean and professor of energy and environmental policy at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. The bipartisan concern about climate change in other nations has led them to do more earlier, she noted, citing the United Kingdom and Germany as two examples.
The major reason for conservative denialism, says longtime climate leader US Senator Ed Markey, is this basic: They are heavily dependent on the fossil-fuel industries for campaign funding. That comes in the form of campaign contributions from industry executives and in corporate donations to independent-expenditure super PACs.
Yet there is a little good news on this front. Some 30 years after global warming emerged as a widely recognized threat, House Republicans have, as of last year, formed a climate caucus, the better to learn a little about the matter.
Imagine the possibilities! Why, an informed party might even develop some ideas of its own, which could be salutary indeed. Satisfying as it no doubt is to try to deny the rival party any victories, on an issue of this importance it might eventually prove even more substantively satisfying to be part of the solution.