Biggest obstacle to passage of Green New Deal? Democratic lawmakers

Ledyard King

WASHINGTON – If the Green New Deal came up for a vote in the Democrat-controlled House, it would have trouble passing.

Because of the Democrats.

Party moderates leading a new climate-change panel said Thursday that they can't support the ambitious resolution led by liberal firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that calls not only for combating the environmental crisis but also champions broad social reforms such as free housing, medical coverage and higher education for all Americans.

Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., Sean Casten, D-Ill., Elaine Luria, D-Va., and Susan Wild, D-Pa, the four co-chairs of the New Democrat Coalition's Climate Change Task Force, said they oppose the Green New Deal as currently written.

More than 100 of the 235 House Democrats are part of the coalition, including 17 on the climate panel.

Signs opposing fossil fuels during a protest in support of the Green New Deal as well as climate and social justice on the U of L campus Friday. Feb. 22, 2019

All four, speaking to reporters during a Capitol Hill news conference, said that they applaud the attention the Green New Deal has brought to the issue and support its intent, but don't see it as a realistic solution.

"We all care about the same issues," Luria said. But "the Green New Deal is aspirational. What we plan to do is offer tangible, achievable things."

Other Democrats have been even more stinging.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said "there's no way to pay for" the Green New Deal and is drafting a narrower alternative. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has criticized the plan as a "dream" that would hurt regions dependent on reliable, affordable energy. Freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., praised the Green New Deal's goal to wean the country off fossil fuels and transition to renewable fuels but said its timeline is far too ambitious.

Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, defended the Green New Deal resolution as "a vision for the just transformation of our economy and energy production system."

"That vision is supported by the majority of the American people and the residents of the Bronx and Queens," he said referring to the New York City district the congresswoman represents. "This office will do what we can to continue promoting policies that will improve the lives of the residents of the Bronx and Queens."

If the Green New Deal comes up for a vote in the House, Democrats could lose up to 18 members of their caucus and still pass the measure, assuming every Republican votes against it.

That's if it ever comes up for a vote.

Democratic leaders have not scheduled a vote and there's no indication one will occur anytime soon. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that the measure would go through committees first while adding she was "more excited" about the work that would be coming out of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

President Donald Trump, who has openly questioned his own administration's scientific reports on climate change, has ridiculed the Green New Deal, calling it "a high school term paper that got a low mark."

Related: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hits back at New York Post's report on her Green New Deal 'hypocrisy'

Related: Green New Deal too ambitious for some Democrats, even those who say Congress must 'do something'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has vowed to bring the measure – which he adamantly opposes – to the floor as a way to get Democrats to go "on record" about the controversial proposal.

The task force hasn't officially met yet and has not gotten behind specific policy solutions. Beyer said he supports a pricing system for the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. Casten said he favors a cap-and-trade system that would limit how much carbon is produced. Luria, a former nuclear engineer in the Navy, supports expanded nuclear power. 

"The aspirations of the Green New Deal are great," Casten said. "The amount of energy it's brought to this issue is fantastic. But doing energy policy right really requires making sure you get the expertise of the folks that have been down in the trenches."

Just the facts: Fact check: How much will the Green New Deal cost?

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biggest obstacle to passage of Green New Deal? Democratic lawmakers