The Obama Administration seems to be pulling back, on front after front, in the face of economic challenges, sobering poll numbers, and steadfast Republican obstinacy. Whether on health care, jobs promoting legislation, EPA regulation of pollutants, and/or energy/climate policy, the political powers that be within the Obama White House have determined that ‘tactical retreats’ toward even more incremental policy concepts is the path forward in an illusive search for bipartisanship policy making with an elusive (and recalcitrant) Republican minority. Watering down already weakened (and inadequate) policy constructs and approaches is path toward increased problems, rather than solutions, on political, economic, and climate terms. Rather than retreat toward ever weaker policy concepts, President Obama would well serve the nation through a step back to consider the totality of the environment with then a strong and aggressive step forward with stronger proposals to seize the huge opportunities that lie before use with real solutions to our jobs, economic, health care, energy, and climate challenges.
When it comes to health care, in brief, the Administration is putting forward a weakened health care proposal that simply ignores the most sensible path forward on economic competitiveness and health care effectiveness terms (single-payer) and abandons any meaningful move forward toward an improved health care system with serious public option opportunities for all Americans (whether employed by government, in large or small firms, self-employed, or otherwise). Not only would a serious “public option” option help provide more cost effective and higher-quality health care, it is a move that the majority of the American public supports and passage of such legislation would represent front-page headline “Change” to demonstrate Obama Administration and Democratic Party-dominated Congressional leadership to change Americans’ lives for the better even in the face of a Republican Party stuck on “No”. Thus, the right thing to do on moral and economic grounds is also the right move politically. Win, win, win …
When it comes to our energy and climate challenges, the latest news is that President Obama will, Wednesday, put before business leaders a set of watered down concepts for energy and climate legislation that represents a Last-Ditch Attempt to Pass a ‘Hybrid’ Climate and Energy Bill.
The “strong” option, of four, reportedly abandons an economy-wide cap on carbon pollution emissions with a focus on transportation and electricity. While these represent the majority of US emissions, this might well (note that full proposals are not in hand) ignore the quite real pollution impacts due to land-use patterns and agriculture — and, perhaps, even more importantly the low-cost, high-payoff opportunities to improve agricultural production while reducing (significantly) pollution loads. And, well, there is a reason that “strong” is in quotation marks because this is likely to be a weak proposal in terms of proposed emissions reductions and, even more so, in terms of support for traditional fossil-fuel electricity production (especially polluting coal). From there, the options go downhill faster than Bode Miller. [Photo courtesy of Jon Wick.]
President Obama (and the huge pool of highly competent and knowledgeable energy/environmental appointees and staff) has a grasp of the seriousness of our climate disruption challenges, understands that there are those determined to misrepresent science, knows very well that other nations (such as the People’s Republic of China) are leaving us (the U.S.) behind in the 21st century clean-energy revolution, and knows that climate change mitigation offers huge economic opportunity even while providing an insurance policy against the (very real) potential for utter catastrophe.
Rather than retreating toward weakened policies, unilaterally compromising with huge subsidies for polluting industries, it is time to step back and come out with an aggressive Clean Energy Jobs set of proposals that will put millions of Americans back to work (rapidly), turn the economic situation around, set the stage for the United States to leap ahead in the economic engine that the clean-energy revolution represents while, oh by the way, drastically reducing U.S. carbon pollution faster and well beyond the levels for the next few decades proposed by any Congressional legislation. And, oh by the way, that reduced pollution feeds back into health care: lowering fossil-fuel pollution will lower health care costs as the burning of fossil fuel costs the United States (according to the National Academy of Sciences) more than $100 billion per year in additional health care costs.
To those unengaged in energy discussions, the previous paragraph might seem outlandish even though it is solid. We, the United States, can
- Cost-effectively eliminate coal from US electricity production over the next 20 years.
- Put 10 million Americans to work in the building trades, equipment manufacturing, financial industries, and related fields via a two-year, $200 billion program to buy down Americans’ mortgages based on building energy efficiency while dramatically reducing pollution loads and cutting Americans’ costs to heat and cool their homes which, by the way, will contribute to improving the financial ability to pay mortgages and lowering foreclosure rates.
- Put 60,000+ to work via investing in research to develop tomorrow’s innovative energy technologies which will create economic opportunities for the decades to come for those already in the workforce and those coming into the workforce from our ever more energy-efficient schools.
- Improve American educational results from pre-school through graduate school while saving money by ‘greening’ schools and, oh by the way, putting a million-plus Americans to work.
- And, so on …
Economic, jobs, energy, health, climate, political … win, win, win, win, win, win …
President Obama has a choice. Right now the choice that his advisors seem to favor: retreating to lowest common denominator incrementalism that won’t solve America’s problems, that won’t truly set the stage for a more secure and prosperous future, and won’t seize the quite real opportunities before us (the U.S.). Another path exists, the choice to listen to Robin Williams’ sage advice: Carpe diem: Seize the Day.
UPDATE / NOTE: James K Galbraith from the other day We need jobs, not deficit cuts
The question facing world leaders today is not what to do. It is whether to do it. There are two goals to meet: full employment and sustainable energy. That’s technically complex. But the complexities are complexities of engineering, organisation and politics. They are not complexities of economics or finance.
President Obama should Seize the Day, seize the reins of leadership and challenge not just Congress, but all Americans, toward something better, to use multiple win opportunities to create a more prosperous and stronger America.