Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse recently assured fellow eco-warriors that the tide on Capitol Hill is turning against those who feel protecting the environment is a non-issue.
“That wall of denial is cracking and it is crumbling,” the Rhode Island Democrat told those gathered for an open house at Oceana on Jan. 27. “Congress is feeling it. And they can’t hold out.”
Whitehouse’s optimistic assessment seems to fly directly in the face of current events, what with “Greatest Hoax” author and newly minted Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., being put in charge of that chamber's ecological stewardship. But the two-term lawmaker is convinced the Republicans who were swept into power last fall won’t want to give it all up two Novembers from now.
“The Republicans are looking at a 2016 presidential electorate, a very different group of Americans than voted in the midterms. They’re looking at Senate elections in states like Florida, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Arizona and Illinois. And they’re looking at an electorate where even in their own party a substantial number of Republicans think climate change is an important issue to deal with and young Republicans think that it’s just nuts not to admit the reality of climate change and deal with it,” Whitehouse said of the perfect storm of political pressures taking shape just over the horizon.
“At some point, [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell has to call the up Koch brothers and say, ‘Guys, we did everything we could. We held out for as long as we possibly could. But we’re gonna lose races, we’re gonna risk losing our majority [and] then you won’t have anything from us,’” he predicted.
In terms of building bridges, Whitehouse held out hope that potential fees on carbon emissions could be legislative winners. He noted that some right-leaning economists have embraced the theory of a dollar-for-dollar trade-off between carbon fees and targeted reductions in the tax code.
“So you’re lowering corporate income taxes, you’re lowering individual income taxes, you’re lowering the payroll taxes, and the net effect is no tax increase, then that’s an economic win and very consistent with conservative economic theory,” Whitehouse projected.
(Something tells us Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist still won’t bite.)
Actor and Oceana board member Sam Waterston shied away from discussing specific policy proposals he’d like to see enacted by the 114th Congress, opting, instead, to focus on the general contours he said he heard in President Barack Obama’s latest State of the Union address.
“I think he spoke eloquently about the necessity of paying attention to the environment — and the ocean is a gigantic component of that,” Waterston told HOH. “I think if the Congress acted to the benefit of the fish stocks in the ocean, he’d probably sign that bill."
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