Sunday, June 14, 2009

Goldilocks, Climate Legislation and Republican Engagement

In the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks, lost in the woods, comes across a cabin. In that cabin are three bowls of porridge, three rocking chairs, and three beds. She tests each of them and concludes that two of each is unacceptable; they are either too hot or too cold, too big or too small, too hard or too soft…but one bed, one bowl of porridge, and one rocking chair was “just right” and she enjoyed them.

I thought of this story as I read reports that the House Republicans were finally offering a climate bill of their own last week. From what I have heard, their proposal is no more “just right” than the Waxman-Markey bill, appearing to be too little, too late, (as opposed to the Waxman-Markey bill’s too much, too soon). Nonetheless, I am very glad that the Republicans are finally engaging on the climate issue.

Under the guise of addressing GHGs, the two bills do different things. The Democratic bill wrongly tries to re-engineer the economy through energy policy; while the Republican bill fittingly tries to achieve energy independence. Unfortunately, neither bill is likely to reduce GHGs.

But, just as Goldilocks had to pursue a trial-and-error process, so does Congress in its search for that “just right” climate bill that will set in motion GHG reductions at the lowest cost. They obviously haven’t found it yet but having the Republicans constructively engaged in this testing is heartening.

Republican engagement on climate is important for five reasons. First, I believe that climate change is real and this is not whether we do something but that the nations of the world do that “something” in a thoughtful, economic and deliberative way. I believe that Republicans can craft such a plan better than Democrats. Second, barring some dramatic change in the political landscape, eventually there will be legislation addressing GHGs and Republicans would be better off being a part of that parade then run over by it. Third, legislating, and politics in general, is a contact blood sport, and while it appears that victory stems more from numerically superior coalitions of disparate special interest constituencies, victory ultimately comes from superior ideas. So, if Republicans stay in the Uecker seats booing and not fielding a team of climate ideas, there’s no way to win either politically or legislatively.

Another reason for Republican engagement is that key constituency groups, especially businesses with national and international scope, need us. Whether we like it our not, in the absence of national climate legislation, states are undertaking their own climate initiatives - can you say “California?” This trend puts businesses in a growing box of mixed, competing and potentially very costly state-by-state regulation. Preemptive national legislation is their only pathway to rationality and if Republicans aren’t there to help them, then out of desperation they’ll turn to Democrats. That’s not good for them, the nation, or Republicans.

Finally, there are some very important, constructive ideas (like encouraging nuclear power) that will be orphaned if not championed by Republicans.

In sum, constructive Republican engagement and even leadership on the climate issue with our superior ideas, traditional skepticism of governmental solutions, and cautious fiscal sensibilities is what America needs on the climate issue. Hopefully, the recent proposal by House Republicans signals my team’s entrance onto the playing field to bravely test the options…but only settling for the yet-to-be-developed “just right” one.

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