Democrats are expected to release a highly anticipated draft plan for a Green New Deal in the coming days — a plan that will aim to combat climate change through a major economic transformation. And during a pair of House hearings on Wednesday, some Republican talking points were revealed that provide insight into how they might argue against strong climate action.
Words and phrases like “socialism” and “top down” and “Soviet-style” are beginning to be used by Republicans to describe the Green New Deal, a major policy proposal to rapidly reduce emissions. The proposal has quickly gained momentum since the midterm elections in November through the popularity of one of its primary boosters, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and the youth-led nonprofit, the Sunrise Movement.
The Green New Deal, as proposed by Ocasio-Cortez in November prior to being sworn into Congress, would guide the transition of the U.S. economy to become carbon neutral within a decade. It also would aim to significantly reduce greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and promote economic and environmental justice and equality.
During the House Natural Resources Committee, headed by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), discussion focused on the current impacts of climate change and potential ways to fight it. It was the committee’s first hearing of the new Congress.
Along with providing a forum to discuss climate impacts and potential solutions, though, the hearing gave Republican members who oppose climate action a platform to speak out against the Green New Deal.
Instead of referring to Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) chose to cite the U.S. Green Party’s version of a Green New Deal that the political party has been championing for more than a decade. While the proposal floated by Ocasio-Cortez resembles the Green Party’s concept of a Green New Deal in many ways, they are not carbon copies.
The Green Party’s version, for instance, calls for reducing spending by the Defense Department, the top polluter in the world, and closing U.S. military bases around the world. The U.S. military is not addressed anywhere in Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal for a Green New Deal.
Referring to the Green Party’s version, Lamborn warned that the Defense Department “would have to close all overseas bases.” The Colorado Republican also said 1.4 million people, both military and civilian employees, would be laid off, even though that employee number is not listed in any Green New Deal proposal.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, suggested the closure of bases, as called for in the Green Party’s proposal from 10 years ago, “is going to make us indefensible.”
“We will not be able to protect ourselves properly from the threat of Russia, China, and even ISIS,” Gohmert said.
One of the witnesses at the hearing, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus and a member of the advisory board of The Climate Mobilization, reminded Gohmert that the military is one of the key government institutions that has spoken about the threats of climate change. A recent report from the Pentagon, for instance, warns of the threat to troops and military basis from climate change.
Lamborn also expressed opposition to the federal government making climate change a priority through a coordinated effort like the Green New Deal. “That sounds too much like a Soviet five-year plan,” he said.
Recent scientific studies, however, have emphasized that bold climate action must be taken by national governments around the world to avoid substantial damages to the environment and human health over the coming decades.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change also held a hearing on Wednesday to gather more information on the environmental and economic effects of climate change.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), the subcommittee’s ranking member, contended that top-down policies to rapidly decarbonize the U.S. economy “may not be the most realistic way to address the climate change problem.”
“We should be open to the fact that wealth transfer schemes suggested in the radical policies like the Green New Deal may not be the best path to community prosperity and preparedness,” Shimkus said.
Even President Donald Trump has alluded to the policy proposals of many new members of Congress that aim to support ordinary people and the environment over the wealthy and polluting industries.
“In the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,” Trump said during Tuesday’s State of the Union.
Proponents of the Green New Deal contend radical change is needed to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change that will occur if no action or only small steps are taken. A Green New Deal, they say, would also provide a “just transition” for workers who are employed by the fossil fuel sector.
Whether replacing lead pipes, weatherizing homes, expanding railways, or manufacturing wind turbines, the Green New Deal, as initially proposed by Ocasio-Cortez, would provide union jobs with family-sustaining wages and benefits, safe working conditions, and training and advancement opportunities.
Meanwhile, another Republican talking point emerged on Wednesday: the age of many of the supporters of a Green New Deal.
Referring to Ocasio-Cortez, Lamborn noted that members of Congress must be at least 25 years old.
“We have young people that bring a lot of great qualities, but maybe they don’t bring a lot of life experience,” he said. “So I guess I can understand if someone has not a lot of life experience and they are proposing something that is extremely unrealistic, well the impossible. But what I don’t understand is if adults and grownups who are older and more mature are also advocating something that is impossible.”
Lamborn mentioned that several contenders for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020have come out in support of a Green New Deal, such as Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
In response to Lamborn’s attack on the younger members of Congress who support a Green New Deal, Elizabeth Yeampierre, co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance and one of the witnesses at the hearing, said “all movements — for civil rights, divestment in South Africa — have been led by young people.”
The issue of climate change, however, is so tangible for younger people precisely because they will have to live with its consequences for a longer period of time, a fact that Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly pointed out.
Grijalva also defended the young people who have been lobbying for a Green New Deal, saying he agrees with the calls for bold climate change.
“I don’t know if that puts me out of step with my age group,” the Arizona congressman said. “But I would suggest that the vast majority of Americans feel the way I do.”