Climate policy has sometimes played more of a role in politics than often realized. The most obvious example is Australia, where a series of governments have fallen in recent years based primarily on their climate policies. Although these effects have been much less dramatic in the US, climate policy has had more effects than often realized. The Congressional fight over cap and trade/tax in 2009-10 appears to have resulted in the defeat of a number of Congressional Democrats in the 2010 election who voted for it, and the loss of the US House of Representatives by Democrats starting in 2011. It also played a role in the Democratic losses in the Senate in the 2014 election, although the effects are much less clear.
I hoped that the Republican takeover of the House and Senate would result in active efforts by Congress to counter EPA’s attempts to implement an environmental extremist agenda in general and CO2 emission reductions in particular. To date, however, this has not happened. And as in other areas of major party policy conflicts, such as immigration, the conflict has primarily taken place in the courts, which have played the main role in preventing the Administration from implementing its unilateral approach in this policy area.
Republican Controlled Congress Has Not Exercised Effective Influence on the Obama Administration through Appropriations
It seems strange that Congressional Republicans, despite the efforts of the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who was reelected in 2014 in substantial part based on his opposition to the Administration’s “war on coal,” seem to be unable to implement their expressed views concerning EPA’s environmental extremism and CO2 reduction regulations. I find this odd because the Constitution says that appropriation bills must be originated in the House and approved by both houses of Congress. So why have their expressed views on climate and other controversial policies not been implemented to date? One would think that the Republican House and Senate could simply cut off funds for any Administration program they do not like, like those concerning immigration and the EPA Clean Power Plan (which I call the Skyrocketing Rates Power Plan or SRPP).
But the Democrats have continued their very effective approach of trying to force Congress to not make “normal” appropriations by groupings of Federal departments and agencies. The alternative, an omnibus continuing resolution, used during most of the Obama Administration, allows the Administration to exercise maximum influence on appropriation bills by threatening a government-wide shutdown if Congress does not appropriate what the Administration wants or imposes “policy” riders such as barring funds for SRPP.
An Alternative Approach to Federal Appropriations
One alternative approach is to subdivide the Federal budget into much smaller pieces, even down to the sub-agency or sub-departmental level. In this approach, the maximum credible threat the Administration could make would be to shut down one sub-Agency or sub-Department by having Obama veto the corresponding appropriation bill, which would provide much less leverage for the Administration to get what it wants in terms of appropriation bills. To its credit, in 2015 Congress has tried to restart the pre-Obama “normal” appropriation process, but Democrats have countered by keeping the resulting bills off the Senate floor.
So on September 30 the first government-wide continuing resolution was passed for Fiscal Year 2016 on the last possible day before a Government shutdown. And as expected, there were no “policy” riders or dramatic changes in funding levels. So the first major opportunity for Congress to significantly influence spending and policy in Fiscal 2016 has been lost. Possibly related to all this, John Boehner, the House Speaker, resigned last week under pressure from the right wing of his Party, apparently out of concern that he was not taking a strong enough stand against the Administration. This suggests a lack of unity and careful strategy as to how to counter the Administration’s attempt to usurp the Constitutional powers of Congress, particularly with regard to appropriations. This is the basis for my characterization of the Republicans in Congress as an uncertain trumpet on climate policy.
I hope that this problem will soon be resolved in favor of restoring the Constitutional powers of Congress over appropriations.
My new book, Environmentalism Gone Mad, available from the book Website, provides greater detail and sources for the observations and events discussed here prior to 2015.