The “Green New Deal” – Part 3: Will It Pass?

By: LOUIS SPANIAS, Sustainability Program Manager

The past two segments of this blog series have covered a lot of ground on the “Green New Deal” Resolution. In the first segment, I explained what exactly the “Green New Deal” was: a blueprint by which Congress could legislate on the issues of climate change and economic injustice. I followed up on this piece with a brief analysis of how feasible it would be to achieve some of the more tangible goals laid out in the Resolution (e.g., nationwide carbon neutrality and carbon-free electricity generation in a ten-year time span) – concluding that ten years was an unrealistic timeframe within which to achieve those goals, but that expanding time horizons to the middle of the century (given political will) improved the likelihood of their achievement. In this final piece, I offer my opinion on the likelihood that Congress passes and acts upon the “Green New Deal” Resolution.

However, the Resolution has already seen one vote so far in the Senate – and it did not go well. On March 26th it failed 0 votes to 57. However, the vote appears to have met purely political ends: Senate Republicans pushed the vote as a means to force Democrats to take a stance on the Deal ahead of the 2020 elections. 43 Democrats voted “Present” to protest this point, calling the vote a “sham” since it had not been preceded by any meaningful hearings or expert testimony on the subject. The Senate’s vote signaled only one thing which we could already presume – that as long as Republicans hold the Senate, no meaningful vote on climate legislation is likely to take place, let alone pass.

And as for the House, there is no indication that the “Green New Deal” will see a vote anytime soon. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has signaled disinterest (if not disdain) for the Resolution itself, even though she has long considered herself to be one of the biggest congressional advocates for climate change policy. Pelosi has since re-established a select committee to address climate change, explaining that while the “Green New Deal” is “on the table,” she has shown preference for House Democratic and committee leaders to focus instead on developing climate legislation rather than passing the Resolution.

Thus, the knee-jerk response would be to suggest that the Resolution is dead – but in actuality it seems that the “Green New Deal” has essentially become a political football. The Trump administration and the Republican Party see the Resolution as an opportunity to corner Democrats, the argument being that it is not only unrealistic, but that it is also but one signal of the party moving towards “socialism.” The Democratic Party has seemingly recognized this point, as well as the polarized response to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who co-presented the Resolution back in February), and thus have largely avoided commenting publicly on it. The Resolution also shows the widening rift in the Democratic party between the establishment and a growing leftist contingent with more progressive ideas. Even as the Resolution is not being scheduled for debate and expert testimony in Congress, Republicans are likely to continue to use it as a wedge issue in the run-up of the 2020 elections.

And while this is not an ideal position for the “Green New Deal” to be in, supporters of the Resolution have to face reality: the “Green New Deal” as presented is not passable – at least not now. This is in part due to the highly ambitious and truthfully unrealistic components of the Resolution, but it is also in part because of its timing vis-à-vis 2020. That said, with several Democratic presidential candidates running on platforms with strong climate change policies (Inslee, Harris, Warren), the Resolution might provide cover to address environmental issues in more pragmatic terms, which would be progress considering that climate change’s last forceful presence on a national campaign was when John Kerry ran against George W. Bush in 2004. But still, 2020 presents a roadblock to any major legislative issue, as neither party may be willing to stick itself out for anything particularly controversial. And for now, the numbers are stacked against progressive legislation of any kind considering the Republican majority in the Senate, as well as who is sitting in the Oval Office. If anything remotely resembling the “Green New Deal” is to obtain votes in Congress, even solely as a Resolution, it will have to be substantively modified to account for a more realistic timeline – and it will likely have to wait until after 2020. Only time will tell.

See the Hixon Center blog to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.