Here are the key talking points the White House sent around with the speech:
This economic and environmental tragedy underscores the urgent need for this nation to embrace a clean energy future. For years, there has been little more than lip service given to the need to end our reliance on fossil fuels. That failure to move forward with innovative energy policies is evidenced by the Gulf spill. Now it is time to act with the urgency that this challenge requires.
This Administration has taken unprecedented action to jumpstart the clean energy industry – from the largest-ever investment in basic research to financial support for innovative “green” businesses to aggressive new national fuel standards. These actions must be matched by a comprehensive plan that transitions the United States to a 21st century clean-energy economy. We must not continue to be tied down by old approaches to harnessing energy resources.
The House of Representatives has passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill, and there is currently a plan in the Senate – developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans – that would achieve similar goals. And the President is committed to working with anyone from either party to get this done, because the cost of inaction to our economy, our national security, and our environment is too great.
The speech itself was not quite so crystal clear.
Now I will credit him for the fact that this was a big oval office speech, and he does spell out the urgent need to end our addiction to fossil fuels. But he can do better than pulling punches, especially on climate, as this one does. We’ll see if he’s serious about his words in the coming days if he personally lobbies Senators — especially Democrats.
Perkins and Sheehan predict that President Obama will alter the Pentagon’s review of the policy to suit his own political agenda and suggest that openly gay men would spread AIDS to the troops and engage in homosexual “behavior” that is “detrimental” to the military:
Yet homosexuality carries with it profound behavioral implications. Sexual attraction among members of the same sex — living, exercising, fighting and training alongside one another in the closest of quarters — could devastate morale, foster heightened interpersonal tension and lead to division among those who, more than virtually any other group in society, need to act as one. [...]
In addition, the medical implications of Obama’s proposal are compelling. According to data released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gay and bisexual men are 50 times more likely to have HIV than heterosexual men….This proposal is not about bigotry. Race is a superficial and benign element of one’s humanness, while homosexuality is a matter of behavior.
Homosexuality is not about civil rights but conduct detrimental to the discipline, trust and combat readiness of what has been — and still is — the world’s finest military.
Earlier this year, Sheehan apologized to former Dutch Chief of Staff Van den Breemen for his suggestion that gays caused the massacre, saying that his memory of discussions they had fifteen years ago about some social issues were ‘inaccurate.’ “Sheehan also said that individual soldiers were in “no way” responsible for the massacre. Now, it seems that Perkins has convinced him that gays can be responsible for at least some of the problems in the U.S. forces (H/T: Right Wing Watch).
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson told Congress we must do everything possible to prevent offshore drilling disasters, because once they occur, there is not any way to stop the damage. By admitting the unavoidable risk of catastrophe, Tillerson exploded the myths — promoted by the oil industry and right-wing supporters — that offshore drilling is “environmentally safe,” and that the industry can handle these disasters when they occur. Tillerson made the shocking admission that the industry is “not well equipped to prevent any and all damage” under questioning from Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), the chair of the oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, during a hearing that featured top executives from the five largest private oil companies:
There will be impacts as we are seeing. We have never represented anything different than that. That’s why the emphasis is always on preventing these things from occurring because when they happen we are not well equipped to deal with them. And that’s just a fact of the enormity of what we’re dealing with.
The only fail-safe way to prevent oil drilling disasters, in fact, is to stop drilling for oil — in other words, “The only winning move is not to play.” This is yet another reason this nation needs an energy policy that puts a cap on oil pollution and ends our toxic addiction.
Early this evening, by a 187-230 vote, the Congress rejected a Republican effort to strip the individual health insurance mandate from the new health care law. Twenty-one Democrats crossed party lines to vote in favor of the measure, while one Republican, Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA), voted against it. The effort was led by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), who attempted to attach the measure to a motion that would have sent a small business tax credit bill back to committee with instructions to insert language invalidating the measure.
Camp claimed that the mandate violated “the basic principle of freedom and individual choice.” “No American should be forced to buy or purchase health insurance they don’t want or can’t afford,” Camp said, arguing that the measure would “uphold the freedom upon which this nation was founded” and obfuscate the need for more IRS agents. The Democrats’ argument was far less grand. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin (D-MI) pointed out that the individual mandate was birthed by Republicans in 1994 and that removing the measure now would only increase premiums for families and undue the new insurance market reforms:
LEVIN: Colleagues, individual responsibility is the cornerstone of health reform is to ensure that every American has affordable health insurance coverage. And that’s why it was included in the GOP 1994 reform. So this is nothing more, nothing more, than a disingenuous political stunt to undermine health reform. Without individual responsibility it would mean that we could not eliminate exclusions for pre-existing condition. We could not prohibit insurers from refusing to cover someone when they apply. We could not prohibit insurance companies from charging more when you get sick. And according to the CBO, if this were to pass, it would result n a loss of coverage for more than 16 million Americans…it would raise health insurance premiums for every American buying coverage through the exchange by nearly 20%.
Watch highlights from the debate:
Indeed, in 1993, Sen. John Chafee (R-RI) introduced an alternative health care bill that compelled every American to purchase health insurance coverage. Four current Republican Senators including, Hatch, Grassley, Bennett, and Bond co-sponsored the measure — and for good reason. The individual mandate creates incentives for otherwise healthy Americans to purchase insurance and may be the only way to achieve affordable universal coverage. Without a mandate, only the sick who need health care would be motivated to purchase it. The pool of insured would be weighted with sick individuals, forcing the costs of the premium to escalate. According to a study by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, “a plan without mandates, broadly resembling the Obama plan, would cover 23 million of those currently uninsured, at a taxpayer cost of $102 billion per year. An otherwise identical plan with mandates would cover 45 million of the uninsured — essentially everyone — at a taxpayer cost of $124 billion.” As Paul Krugman concludes, a plan without mandates would cost $4,400 per newly insured person, the plan with mandates only $2,700.
As Levin points out, the mandate is also essential for reforming health insurance markets. Demanding that insurers accept every applicant without regard for pre-existing condition and charge every beneficiary a community rate is impossible if healthy people game the system and wait until they fall ill to purchase coverage. Under the GOP’s scenario, why would anyone spend their healthier years paying insurance premiums if the neighbor across the street can obtain the same coverage for the same rate on a need-it-now basis?
Before becoming the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Kentucky, Rand Paul welcomed questions and inquiries from the press. But after a tide of criticism for his belief that private businesses should have the right to discriminate based on race and physical ability, Paul restructured his staff and brought on National Republican Senatorial Committee help. Since the new leadership within the campaign, Paul has canceled on Meet the Press and refused to speak to non-ideological media, preferring the safe platform of Fox News. Last weekend, after a speech to Republican activists in the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Paul balked at the prospect of talking to local reporter Ryan Alessi. Paul instead instructed Alessi to “submit your questions to us and we’ll look at them”:
ALESSI: Would you vote for the extension of the Medicaid reimbursement increase that the governors, at least thirty governors want?
PAUL: Why don’t you submit your questions to us and we’ll look at them.
ALESSI: You’re not going to answer any questions in person?
Paul seems to be taking a page from other prominent conservative firebrands like Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle. Palin has refused to take direct questions from actual journalists, and she has a stipulation in her speaking contract that questions must be screened before audience members can ask her anything. Angle closed her campaign to only conservative media after winning the Republican nomination in Nevada. Since winning the Republican nomination, Paul has not only become less open, but has flipped on his position that he would not fund raise with Senators who voted for the bank bailout. (HT: Joe Sonka)
The American Power Act may be President Obama’s last chance to pass comprehensive climate legislation and prevent catastrophe this year. The legislation, drafted by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — before Graham dumped his commitment to a cap on carbon pollution — is in the mix for the Senate calendar, although many Democrats want to abandon it for a smaller suite of energy policies, such as the bill that came out of Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) energy committee last year. Recognizing the political challenge, Obama has committed to finding the votes for legislation that puts a price on carbon pollution.
The Environmental Protection Agency has released its analysis of the American Power Act today, agreeing with independent studies that the legislation would cut energy bills, create jobs, and strengthen national security. Most critically, they also looked at the effect of the legislation on the fate of the planet’s climate. Scientists have repeatedly warned that catastrophic tipping points — global species collapse, megadroughts, rapid sea level rise, ice cap destruction — become inevitable as the planet warms more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Quite simply, an American cap on carbon is the deciding factor:
Under reference assumptions the probability of observed temperature changes in 2100, relative to pre-industrial levels, remaining below 2° C (or 3.6° F) is roughly 1%, and the probability of observed temperature change exceeding 4° C (or 7.2° F) is approximately 32%.
Under the combined APA and the G8 international agreement assumptions, the probability of observed temperature changes in 2100 remaining below 2° C (or 3.6° F) increases to 75%, and the probability of observed temperature changes exceeding 4° C is negligible given climate sensitivity assumptions.
To be clear — EPA’s modeling of climate sensitivity is optimistic, and the world will need to raise its ambitions for declaring independence from oil and coal pollution.
Without policy, the EPA finds, concentrations of greenhouse gases will rise to 931 ppm carbon-dioxide-equivalent by 2100; with America leading the G8 to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2040, concentrations will only rise to 457 ppm.
Even if China, India and other developing countries take the unlikely path of inaction until 2050, and then hold emissions constant, “the probability of observed temperature changes in 2100 remaining below 2° C (or 3.6° F) increases to approximately 11%, and the probability of observed temperature changes exceeding 4° C (or 7.2° F) falls to roughly 15%.”
The opponents of the American Power Act and EPA regulation of carbon pollution are playing a deadly game of Russian roulette — with bullets in 99 chambers out of 100.
Yesterday, House Democrats agreed to give in to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and exempt the powerful gun lobbying group from key financial disclosure rules. The DISCLOSE Act was designed to require corporations, unions, and politically active nonprofits to “report donors who finance such political activity above certain thresholds, and the company that primarily pays for TV or radio campaign ads would have to add a disclaimer message recorded by its CEO.” However, with the new carveout — pushed by moderate Democrats such as Rep. Heath Shuler (NC) — the NRA would get a special exemption.
Campaign finance reform groups quickly criticized the Democrats’ deal. The Center for Competitive Politics said it was “just the kind of insider manipulation that gives the public the sense that Congress is unresponsive to the concerns of ordinary Americans.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also sensed the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and criticized Democrats for making a “backroom” deal with the NRA:
If there is one thing Americans loathe about Washington it’s the backroom dealing to win the vote of organizations with power and influence at the expense of everyone else. … Just as it wasn’t the Democrats’ money to offer in the health care debate, free speech isn’t theirs to ration out to those willing to play ball — it’s a right guaranteed by our First Amendment to all Americans.
McConnell should know a backroom deal when he sees one — especially one with the NRA. Last year, he went behind the public’s back and convinced the NRA to help Republicans turn the public against Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nominee:
One top aide to GOP leader McConnell confirmed that McConnell, at a meeting of conservative groups, asked the NRA about scoring the Sotomayor vote as a key vote hostile to gun rights. The aide conceded that in asking the question, McConnell was promoting an unusual step that the NRA then took.
In 2007, McConnell gave a speech at the NRA’s “Celebration of American Values” conference, in which he specifically praised the NRA’s role in influencing lawmakers to try to kill campaign finance reform — something he now pretends to be shocked about in the 111th Congress:
Now, Chris alluded to the campaign finance fight. Many of you know that I was, at least in the beginning, kind of a lonely soldier there, but all of a sudden we had a larger group, and nobody was more central to the fight against what I still believe is unconstitutional campaign finance reform than the NRA, and I thank you for your leadership on that issue.
Remember, when you hear those three words, “campaign finance reform,” somebody’s trying to take away your right to speak. And the NRA was a very, very effective advocate.
For the last two years, the Obama administration has proposed ending senseless tax subsidies that the federal government gives to oil companies, despite the fact that oil is an incredibly lucrative industry. Congress has, thus far, not responded, and as Congressional Quarterly reported today, “the numerous tax advantages enjoyed by oil and gas producers appear likely to survive virtually unscathed despite the political turbulence created by the biggest oil disaster in American history.”
However, that is not due to a complete lack of trying. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has proposed an amendment to the tax extenders bill currently before the Senate, which would cut $35 billion in subsidies for Bil Oil. $25 billion of the savings would go toward reducing the deficit and $10 billion would fund a grant program encouraging energy-efficient buildings. Sanders took to the Senate floor today to point out that, in an age of high, long-term deficits, it makes no sense to subsidize one of the most profitable industries in the country with taxpayer money:
Twenty-two percent of the children in this country live in poverty, we have record-breaking deficits, we have a $13 trillion national debt, and Exxon-Mobil receives $156 million in a tax refund after making $19 billion in profit. Mr. President, this has got to stop…I get a little bit tired of hearing my friends come to the floor of the Senate talking about the need to reduce our deficit. I get a little bit tired about people talking about the need for equity. If we can not address a situation in which some of the most profitable corporations in America pay zero federal taxes, and in fact get a tax rebate, then I’m not quite sure what this institution is doing.
Sanders then asked for unanimous consent to move to his amendment. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) objected.
As CAP’s Sima Gandhi has pointed out, these subsidies are not only expensive, but they don’t actually add anything to domestic oil production:
These subsidies will cost the U.S. government about $3 billion next year in lost revenue and nearly $20 billion over the next five years…And it’s not clear that a few billion in subsidies for oil companies does much to impact their business decisions. According to estimates from the Office of Economic Policy at the Department of Treasury, removing subsidies for the oil industry would at most affect domestic production by less than one-half of 1 percent.
Gandhi has counted nine different subsidies that the U.S. government gives to the oil industry, including refunds for drilling costs and for the cost of searching for oil. This is corporate welfare at its finest, and yet, Inhofe is standing in the way, blocking Sanders’ amendment from even coming to the floor.
The Sanders amendment eventually came up for a vote and was defeated, 35-61.
Although President Bush spoke during his second term about “keeping the military option on the table,” it became apparent to Tehran that, distracted by other issues, Washington would not back up its words with actions. Now the Obama administration has virtually given up even referring to the use of force — except when administration officials warn of the supposed catastrophic consequences of any military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Indeed, the Obama administration seems much more taken with the urgency of blocking an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program than with stopping Iran’s nuclear program. And one routinely hears how very, very dangerous any use of military force against Iran would be.
What other issues was Bush distracted by? Oh, you know, that other war (Iraq) that Kristol helped steer us into, and the other other war (Afghanistan) that we’re still fighting now largely because of the decision to invade Iraq before we’d finished the job in Afghanistan. It’s unsurprising that Kristol doesn’t mention this, because that would require him to recognize that launching new and glorious military interventions entails serious costs and trade-offs, and he is simply unable to do that. In Kristol’s world, bad things only ever result from not launching new and glorious military interventions.
It’s unclear, for example, that Iran would want to risk broadening the conflict and creating the prospect of regime decapitation. Iran’s rulers have shown that their preeminent concern is maintaining their grip on power. If U.S. military action is narrowly targeted, and declared to be such, why would Iran’s leaders, already under pressure at home, want to escalate the conflict, as even one missile attack on a U.S. facility or ally or a blockade of the Strait would obviously do?
While I’m pleased that Kristol and Fly are now on record in support of the idea that the Iranian regime is rational, and against the nonsensical idea that it desires nuclear martyrdom, it hardly needs to be pointed out that “Hey, there’s a chance that the very worst might not happen!” does not constitute a solid argument for military action. Hard as it is for some to grasp, the simple fact is that there are problems in foreign policy that cannot be solved by American ordnance.
It’s also worth noting that frequent Weekly Standard contributor Reuel Marc Gerecht has an op-ed in today’s New York Times arguing for more explicit U.S. support for Iran’s pro-democracy Green movement — yet it’s hard to think of anything that would extinguish that movement more quickly and effectively than following Kristol and Fly’s advice.