Millions of Americans — along with Asians and Europeans — are wilting during a stifling heat wave. The oppressive heat is not confined to the Sunbelt. It reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Boston and London last week and this week the Pacific Northwest bakes under the hot summer sun.
Arctic ice melts while drought dries out the Southwestern states and drains reservoirs in California. A toxic brew of heat and drought created the perfect conditions for the wildfires that rage widely and ravage forests in the American west and in Mediterranean Europe.
The climate crisis struck back hard after efforts to turn back the tide of global warming failed in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court overruled efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate the coal-fired energy plants that produce carbon emissions. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) rebuffed President Biden’s efforts to get congressional action on legislation to fight climate change.
Then Manchin suddenly changed course. Was it the stifling heat wave that changed his mind or was it the political heat that he got from fellow Democrats?
Manchin just cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would provide just north of $300 billion to develop clean energy sources to replace fossil fuel usage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly over the next decade.
When former President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, then-Vice President Biden said that it was a “big f—ing deal.” The passage of this Senate proposal would also be a significant presidential masterstroke.
The agreement is great news for hard-pressed middle-income taxpayers. The revenue source for clean energy development is a 15 percent minimum corporate income tax that would require companies that pay little or no federal taxes to pay their fair share. Taxpayers would get the benefits of new clean energy jobs and protection against environmental carnage.
While working families struggle, big business enjoys record profits, so they can afford to pay the freight. The agreement would also allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies — a change that could save billions of dollars for millions of Medicare recipients.
If the proposal becomes law, it will boost Biden’s standing before the midterm elections. He has already succeeded in getting Congress to pass significant legislation to fight COVID-19, improve infrastructure and to combat gun violence.
This legislation would enhance an impressive presidential resume that would in turn boost the fortunes of Democratic congressional candidates, meanwhile, Republican congressional candidates who oppose the groundbreaking legislation will be in the hot seat. Passage of the bill Schumer and Manchin agreed on might also help Democrats gin up turnout among young voters who are unenthusiastic about the midterms, but who are horrified about the onslaught of climate change.
Even with Manchin on board, there are still obstacles to passage in the Senate. All 50 Senate Democrats must support the legislation and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the maverick Democrat from Arizona, is on record in opposition to corporate tax increases. The deal between Manchin and Schumer has enraged corporate America, which is expected to lobby intensely against the legislation.
If the deal falls through, Biden must act.
The president came close to declaring a climate emergency last week at a defunct coal-fired energy plant in Somerset, Mass. that is now part of an offshore wind project. It might have been a signal to Manchin that there would be executive action if there wasn’t legislative action.
The declaration of a climate emergency would streamline and legitimize the president’s ability to stop exports of crude oil, ban offshore oil drilling and direct private industry to produce clean transportation and infrastructure projects.
Decisive presidential action to protect the world would elicit howls of protests and shrill chants of “Drill Baby Drill” from the fossil fuel industry and their backers in Congress. The president may not score many political points, but it would solidify his legacy as a truly transformative chief executive who acted decisively to save the world for future generations. This stitch in time would be a clear signal and a clarion call that could focus Americans on the looming existential threat.
Biden could use his bully pulpit to draw attention to the crisis and at the same time remind Americans that clean energy could be a powerful engine for economic growth with massive public projects to produce clean energy infrastructure and millions of good-paying jobs. The threat of a declaration might light a fire under those senators who are reluctant to support the current legislative proposal.
If the Senate refuses to act, it’s up to Biden to break the deadlock. He wants to be a transformative president like Franklin Delano Roosevelt — but it’s difficult to be an FDR when you only have a wafer-thin majority in Congress.
If the Senate fails to act, the more the threat of climate change becomes reality. If the Senate balks and the president fails to use his emergency powers, he loses the power to be a transformative figure.
Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. His podcast, “Deadline D.C. with Brad Bannon,” airs on Periscope TV and the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter: @BradBannon